14.11.2012 - 14.11.2012 4 °C
The day dawned with ephermeral signs of sunshine and a sharp nip in the air. We started out with plans of walking outdoors as much as possible to take advantage of the clear skies. However, as with all things ephemeral, the sun quickly hid itself behind a thick low lying layer of cloud. Still optimistic, we set out at nine picking up a couple more baguettes for a picnic lunch and plunged underground for our metro commute popping up near Hotel National Des Invalides a half hour later. Despite the mist, the views of Hotel Invalides, Pont Alexander III and the Grand Palais were still spectacular. We could see the base of the Eiffel Tower in the distance with the top lost in the clouds. After a few shivery minutes it became readily apparent that an outdoor day was not in the cards.
We decided to tour Hotel Invalides, which is a military museum and monument to Napoleon Bonaparte. Hotel Invalides was established by Louis XIV as an institution to house disabled soldiers. At its peak, it housed 4,000 veterans. Napoleon changed the attached chapel into a military pantheon which after his death housed his tomb.
The museum houses armour and weapons dating back thousands of years including Greek weapons and armour. There is a huge collection of armour and weapons dating from the 12th to 19th century and another collection covering WW I and II. As with all large museums you can't hope to take it all in. We took in the medieval collection and all the items up to and including Napoleon which was more than enough information for our brains to process. We saw armour as ornate as any jewelry and swords, crossbows, pikes, lances, daggers, flintlocks and canons in the hundreds. Humankind has been preoccupied for a long time with ways of killing and protecting themselves from being killed. Seeing the technical developments in warfare over an 700 period was a great educational experience (yes, even the women found the war stuff interesting).
Seeing armour for kids as well as adults was an interesting twist. It was hard not to miss how much smaller people were in the past. A lot of the armour and uniforms on display would barely fit Abby let alone a full grown 21st century adult male from North America. Over time you can see some growth in the stature of people and the portraits by Napoleon's time show that at least the officer class was finally making it to our present day equivalent of middle age.
The real eye popper of Hotel Invalides is the Tomb of Napoleon. The inside of the churchlike tomb nearly rivals St. Peter's Bascilica in Rome. The wide varieties of marble, the generous use of gold leaf and the huge scale of the monument are as mind numbing as they are beautiful. Centered under the dome is the huge red marble sarcophogus of Napoleon surrounded by statues and relief carvings symbolizing his military and civil accomplishments. You would think Napoleon and his admirers were really trying to compensate for something. When you start looking around Paris at other structures you begin thinking maybe it is just par for the course. The idea of "over the top" seems to have originated and been perfected in Paris, just check out Pont Alexander III out front.
All the touring around the museum made us hungry so we braved a very brief picnic outside. We all got quite chilled and ducked back into the museum bookstore to warm up and make plans for the rest of the day. We decided to walk the gorgeous Pont Alexandre III (bridge) and check out the exteriors of the Grand Palais (site of the World Fair that also saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower) and the Petit Palais across the street which now serves as Paris' Fine Arts Museum. The Grand Palais had a VIP event going on so was inaccessible except to the well-heeled of Paris. In front were parked Rolls Royces and BMWs exclusively. We did go into the foyer of the Petit Palais and had to cope with a very curt and demanding security check at the entrance. Apparently 13 year old girls are particularly dangerous, since Abby was told to wait outside the front door while we got checked through and then was signalled in a very loud and demanding fashion to enter and reveal all that she had on her person. Right after Abby was checked in the security guard was relieved by a much friendlier female attendant.
After five hours of sightseeing in the cold we decided to head home and pick up fixings for dinner on the way. It is nice to have a warm cozy apartment to come home to where you can have hot chocolate made from creamy milk or a homemade cafe au lait. The plan then was to blog, nap and have a leisurely dinner. What next? Perhaps a nice evening stroll of Paris to see all the buildings lit up. We will need to bundle up for that!