On Monday we decided to go to the Chateau de Vincennes. We hadn’t been there yet, but Richard really wanted to see it because a few important people that he has researched, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Henri de Navarre (who became King Henri VI of France, the Protestant who converted to Catholicism), Marquis de Sade, and Diderot among others, were imprisoned there. The walls of the first level of the “donjon” are decorated with graffiti left by the prisoners, most quite beautiful. Richard and I biked with the girls (the Chateau is right in front of the Bois de Vincennes) and Felicia and Andy and their boys took the metro, with the hopes that they could rent bikes at the Bois after our tour.
The Chateau de Vincennes is one of the largest and well preserved castles in Europe and one of the most important in French history. It was built by Charles V (aka Charles the Wise) in the 14th century as his royal Palace during the 100 years war. On the second floor, just above the queen’s quarters on the first (which was later converted into cells), Charles lived, worked, and planned at least 3 months of the year. The main central hall of the keep (French “donjon”) was only about 10 by 10 meters, with a room built into three of the four corner towers (stairs in the fourth). Just off the one corner, the royal wardrobe, there was a heated study, which was surprisingly small–probably 2.5 meters by 4. In another corner was a royal treasury, in which about 1/5 of the yearly royal revenue was usually kept on hand. Attached to that was the toilet, directly adjacent to his chambers (apparently an innovation). The third corner housed a small oratory, for his private prayer. Until Fontainebleu became popular under Francis 1st, in the early 1500s, this was one of the most prized Paris residences of the king. Not exactly Versailles (which Felicia and Andy described for us), but pretty cool none-the-less. Of course, by the 19th century it was mostly just a prison. Enemies of the state in particular were held there, such as Louis de Bourbon-Conde, duc d’Engien. He was the last figure of the royal house of Conde remaining in France after the Revolution, and Napoleon decided that he was a dangerous royalist. Nobody knows really if he was guilty, but Napoleon, after getting rid of the other “consuls,” had him shot for treason in the moat at Vincennes, after a short military trial in the chateau. Suitable location for the end of the old nobility . . . Within the walls of the larger fortress (beyond the keep’s moat) is a beautiful Gothic chapel called Sainte-Chapelle. Its stained glass depicts images from the book of Revelation (wikipedia has some great photo’s of inside the chapel worth looking at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sainte-Chapelle). Because of the French Revolution in the 18th century most of the church was destroyed. Now only 2/3rds of the original stain glass remains and much of the chapel is a re-creation of the original. Today the chapel is nearly empty and looks much more plain without all the gold accents, statues, etc. Only an alter in the far end remains with some benches on which you can sit to read literature on the chapel. But all that doesn’t take away the splendor of the stained glass, which is considered the best of their type in the world.
From the Chateau de Vincennes we walked to the Parc Floral, hoping to rent bikes for Felicia and Andy so that we could explore the Bois de Vincennes together. Sadly, not a bike rental place was in site, no matter how long we consulted the guidebooks that said otherwise. So instead we decided to walk through the Parc Floral, hoping the kids would be good for a few minutes. As it turned out, that was the best decision we made all day. In a part of the park we had never been to, we found several enormous jungle gyms, slides, climbing nets, and so on! We had to show Seth and Sydney how to get to the top of the slides once, before they were dashing back up like monkeys on caffeine. And no one told Norah and Tristan that they were smaller than them (or that the slide was for kids 5 and up). So they bobbled behind, with crazed grins and giggles. A little farther down there were two rope climbing setups, like monkey bars made out of ship rigging. One huge one for adults (Elora and Andy got first go), and a smaller of the same design for kids. I think she was skeptical at first, but after watching the mom and dad climb the big one, she decided that of course she could do it too, and scampered up the little one so quickly you’d think she did it everyday! Then the swings . . . and Seth–unspeakable joy–found a farm tractor spring toy to sit on, which made his afternoon. By then the day was coming to a close, so we walked back through the park and started home.