A reasonably short train ride away from Paris is the charming town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. As soon as you exit from the RER A station, manicured gardens and the large mansion stand in front of you. The Chateau has now been turned into the national archaeological museum for France, but the exterior remains just as regal as ever.
The gardens are active – runners, football players, and stroller-walkers meander throughout the expansive green spaces. The edge of the gardens end in a cliff, providing a view to the rest of the city.
View of the Town, June 2016
Gardens of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, June 2016
After a tour of the Chateau and grounds, the little shops and cafes in the vicinity retain the historical atmosphere, with architecture similar to the Haussmannian buildings of Paris.
With the beautiful weather, it was the perfect time to go on a day trip to the Chateau de Fontainebleau with two of my friends. We didn’t know much about the chateau but were intrigued enough to climb aboard the train for an hour to get there.
It turned out to the perfect day trip. A picnic lunch. A history lesson. And a bunch of laughs.
The Chateau de Fontainebleau was owned by many important figures throughout the centuries, and each had their own ideas of what it should look like. Notable owners include Francis I, Louis XII to Louis XVI, Napoleon and Napoleon III. The Chateau became a hodgepodge of all their ideas, with each addition denoted by adding their coat of arms or insignia.
The building itself contains many different styles, but so do the gardens. Although there are traditional French gardens, they also included an English garden and of course left a large swath of land untouched for hunting grounds.
Located in the Bois de Boulogne (a large park in the west of Paris), the modern building emerges from behind the treetops. Designed by Frank Gehry, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is a modern art museum. So naturally, the building itself is a modern artwork as well!
In classic Gehry style, it is composed of wild curves to create a radically obscure building.
For me, it had a slight resemblance to a water park. A pool of water surrounds the entire base of the building, with the brightly coloured, curved exterior structure looking an awfully lot like water slides. (It could also be that I am excited for the hot summer weather and ready to go swimming!)
The Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris is a large campus in the south of Paris which hosts international students (mostly those in a master or doctorate program). You can see where they got the name from.
It was founded in 1925, and now has 40 residences on the campus, with 10 more underway. It also happens to be the place I will be calling home for the next five months.
La Maison Internationale is the center of the campus and provides services to residents and visitors, including a restaurant, library, theater and swimming pool. It feels like a palace inside and out, so naturally you feel a smidge royal when you enter the lobby – until you have to perform the standard security bag check to proceed any farther and you feel like a regular peasant again.
Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe
This was the first house constructed in the Cité U, and has a certain quaintness to it. The little cottages border a small courtyard and it is adorable!
The Swiss residence was designed by none other than Le Corbusier. This building is a typical example of his five points of modern architecture – pilotis, roof garden, free facade, free plan, and horizontal windows. I also confirmed that they do indeed have his famous chair in their lounge to complete the look.
Maison des Étudiants Canadiens
This distinctively red building is where I am staying. Along the floor of the main corridor, there is a mosaic of a beaver and of a maple leaf. Feels like home.
Maison de l’Inde
Maison du Mexique
Maison des Étudiants Suédois
Maison Henrich Heine
All of the buildings differ in size and vary in design, which is interesting to see compared to most of central Paris which follows strict regulations to create a homogeneous experience.
With the residences on the edges of the property, the interior remains a park, enjoyed by runners and dog walkers.
Come spring, I am sure this space will become even more lush with the trees sprouting leaves, and even more jam-packed of runners.
The Promenade Plantée, or Coulée verte René-Dumont, is a pedestrian walkway above street level that meanders through the 12th arrondissement. The pathway runs along a viaduct, previously used as a railway. Welcome to the original New York High Line.
Keeping in mind that it is January, it was a nice surprise to see how green and lush the plants were, compared to the frozen wasteland of Canadian winters.
And of course, I wasn’t surprised to find this place almost completely inhabited by runners (proving yet again it is the national sport).
La Seine is a river that snakes through France, and right through the center of Paris. There are always tour boats slowly chugging along and many bridges cross over. Walking along the edges of the river, below street level, was quiet and calm with only the occasional jogger passing by (running is the national sport of Paris it seems).
Sometime during my architectural education, certain buildings in and around Paris have been ingrained into my architectural knowledge as being the quintessential precursors to today’s architecture. These monuments are a hotbed of tourist attraction, and so I joined the swarm to see these much praised works once and for all.
Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles)
This palace, built by Louis XIV to be the political center of France, is giant and quite a trek from central Paris (…thanks Louis). The hall of mirrors is the most popular part of the palace, and the part I was most excited to see. I was expecting to be astonished by the reflections of mirrors and twinkles of gold, but after all the sensationalism, I was simply content walking through space. With the sides roped off and visitors shuffling through, there was a subdued atmosphere. To get the effect of splendour Louis was going for, I feel like a grand ball needs to be held, with dancing and an energetic atmosphere. (Maybe they should hold a Zumba class?)
It was really the Gardens of Versailles that impressed me. These gardens continued as far as the eye could see, with paths leading off to different areas . The perfectly symmetrical and manicured gardens, the ornate fountains and the green grass in the middle of January – beautiful!
This neoclassical style building felt like a textbook example of architectural terms, including Corinthian columns, vaulted ceilings and clerestories. It was interesting to see all these aspects discussed in introductory architecture classes in the flesh, but something that I was never aware of is that the Panthéon is in fact a mausoleum. Beneath the ground floor, down a spiraling staircase, are the burials of many historical French figures. It is eerily dark, damp and chilly even on a warm day.
The well known glass pyramid, designed by I.M.Pei, acts as such a neat entrance to this art museum. Entering this completely transparent space and descending down into the large lobby is such great way to start the tour. Inside the museum was beautiful too. It felt as though not just the artworks were on display but so was the historical building.
And last but not least, the greatest tourist attraction of all of Paris. The iconic landmark of Paris, more a feat of structural ingenuity than architecture, was shockingly giant. I don’t know what I was expecting, but walking around the thick legs of the structure I was impressed by the shear magnitude. Clearly, all the images I’ve seen in the past haven’t done it justice and you must see it to believe it.