Hidden gardens, mansions, and spectacular places not otherwise open to the public are the jewels I love seeing during the weekend of Journees Patrimone or heritage days. A lot of monuments, châteaux and museums are generally open for free as well.
I look forward to it each year and always marvel at the secret beauty hidden behind walls here. It happens all over Europe, not just France!
There are too many places to cram in two days and the lines are long, as just about everybody else is hoping to get in too, so you have to carefully choose and plan strategically.
This past weekend, 22,000 visited the French senate, 20,000 the Elysee Palace and 20,000 the Assemblée Nationale, which I failed again to fit in this year.
The Russian Liturgical chanting by the Orthodox Choir of Moscow was a prelude this year at the brand new Russian Cultural Center and Cathedral, which also opened its doors for heritage days.
Although the appearance of the shiny golden domes of the cathedral wasn’t welcomed by some Parisians, I find that they add a certain allure and beauty to the landscape by La Tour Eiffel.
Paris has welcomed thousands of Russian immigrants since pre and post 1900 and they were in need of a new Orthodox cathedral.
Though the domes are traditionally byzantine, the architecture of the church and building are not. Designed by Jean Michel Wilmotte, they are too rectangular looking for my traditional tastes.
The orthodox liturgical chanting was accompanied by slides of ancient Icons flashed on the screen behind them.
They were chants sung by monks from monasteries centuries ago and they resonated the love and praise to Christ and Mary, Theotokos.
The whole affair and music from the choristers was absolutely beautiful and transcendental to my ears. The energy that filled the small auditorium was soothing and very healing.
As I walked across the Seine, with the Tour Eiffel lit golden against the dark sky, I felt lifted and light in spirit.
First visit was the greenhouses of the French Senate in the Luxembourg gardens. Closed to the public, it was a rare chance to see some unusual orchids and other horticultural species.
Luxembourg gardens was created by Marie de Medici in 1612 and the French senate now occupies her royal palace.
The southern part of Luxembourg gardens used to be a branch of the famous liquor producing Chartreuse monastery, from 1279 where monks grew many species of fruit trees, that Luxembourg still carries on today
They pride themselves of the number of orchids, yet I saw only a few greenhouses filled with flowering ones. I wonder if many of those prized orchids are given as gifts to members of the Senate as perks of the job?
Though the alleys were lined with lush tropical and flowering plants, I was expecting to see more specimens in the greenhouses, some of which were closed to entry.
I had thought of taking in the Medici palace/Senate before leaving, but the line was already way too long .
Bus 84 took us to the foot of our next stop of the mansion housing the L’Ordre des Pharmaciens in the 8th arrondissement.
The mansion belonged to the Menier family, whose patriarch Jean Antoine Brutus Menier was the founder of the largest chocolate factory in the France, Menier Chocolates.
He was a pharmacist by apprenticeship who got into manufacturing pharmaceuticals of the day. Because chocolate was considered to have several healing qualities, he starting making chocolates at his famous factory in Noisiel.
He was responsible for accumulating the 750 pots of primary elements used to formulate drugs. Some are still in use today, but others of animal origin, like black caterpillars and crawfish eyes are not.
His sons and heirs dropped the pharmaceuticals and preferred expanding the chocolate business. The original factory is now headquarters of Nestle France.
The Menier family had an eclectic taste in architecture, combining the neo gothic original mansion with an adjoining one that they created a Moorish exterior, but with a Venetian carved wooden staircase with Italian mosaics.
I liked the all marble dining room lined with wall to wall mirrors best. The family was so successful they later acquired the château de Chenonceau, which they own today.
Sunday, I had plans to visit a château in the countryside, but with rains predicted decided to keep my visits in Paris.
Before leaving, I made a rather perfunctory visit around the flea market just to make sure there wasn’t anything I could not leave without. There wasn’t.
Not wanting to stay in line for long in the rains, like I have done in the past, I opted to go to the Musée des Minéralogie, which I had never been to before.
The museum is housed in the old Hotel de Vendôme, built in 1707, and now houses the École des Mines. I was aware that it was there and must have walked past it multiple times, wondering what it looked like inside.
There is plaque on the side facing Blvd Saint Michel, where you can see bombshell damage from the liberation of Paris.
This school is one of France’s very elite schools, called the “grands écoles’ that initially started out to produce mining engineers, which is still does. Today though it also offers curriculums in various branches of engineering, geosciences and research.
Upon entering the school, I loved the grand filigree marble staircase surrounded with beautiful frescos on each floor, such as the one seen above.
The multiple rooms of the libraries each had lovely neo gothic decor and all retained an air of elegance of another century.
The museum was housed upstairs and I was frankly astonished by the very vast collection of minerals.
It is one of the fourth largest collections in the world, offering over 100, 000 mineral specimens.
I do not know practically anything about geology, nor about minerals, other than a few attributes of some crystals.
I was blown away by them all! To think that these marvelous and very beautiful mineral “rocks” were formed from the bowels of planet Earth is more than awesome in dimension.
There was every type of mineral known to man on display. There were even multiple specimens of meteorites!
I found the different types of marble and granites very pretty which I did not know such varieties existed. Ditto for the different types of lava.
A beautiful but poignant collection was some of the French crown jewels, that the Revolutionaries confiscated and sold.
The amethysts were all lovely as were the diamonds and other various precious jewels. I thought it sad that these jewels were all stolen that belonged and maybe worn by the French royalty.
Throughout the museum there were students willing to describe the collections and answer questions, even being able to recite the chemical composition of them and how they were formed!
As I was walking amongst all these minerals, I felt overwhelmed with a deep spiritual connection with the profound mystical intricacies of nature.
Since I believe that each mineral rock caries a different energy depending of its chemical composition, perhaps that is not surprising.
There is something quite tangible with being touched by it all, though I am unable to describe this feeling with words.
Being around the sea evokes similar mystical feelings yet the energy feels different and more expansive.
We only know a smidgen of all the elemental matter that makes up our universe and that which is undiscovered is in itself beyond the fringes of our imagination.
The expression of these elements as seen in the beauty of the minerals is very vast and marvelous to my eyes.
These mineral rocks may look hard and solid, but they too are made of whirling minute particles and space.
I found myself wanting to know more about some, and next time will go with a knowledgeable guide.
To indigenous people, the earth and the moon represent the fecundity of female energy and of course is very grounding in nature.
With that in mind, I thought how appropriate for me to conclude my heritage days visits with the fundamentals of our cosmic mix that makes up our physical bodies as well as the planets and our universe.
The mysteries of earth and our expanding multiple universes are the greatest heritage of all!