After visiting Tours on Saturday day, I headed back to Paris early Sunday morning. I was planning on seeing a few more things in the area by Gare de Lyon that I didn't get to see when I was in the city before. And I had til 8PM to do since my train to Milan was an overnight one. The train ride back was uneventful and very quiet; it was 8AM on Sunday morning though. When I got back to Paris, we arrived at the Montparnasse station and since I had no Metro tickets or small bills or coins left, I went to find a small market to get some food and change. Yet, in Montparnasse on a Sunday everything is closed!! It took me like 15 minutes to find a place with reasonably priced food. And on the way to finding the place I ran into the people on the sidewalks who want you to sign up for things. And since it wasn't my first encounter with them, when my response of "no Francais" prompted them to speak in English I decided to say "no English" to get them to leave me alone. Gah, not the best 30 minutes of my life...
After getting food and getting on the subway I make it to the Paris Bercy station where my night train would be leaving from, and a train attendant said they had luggage storage there as well. However, they didn't and I had to go to Gare de Lyon to store my bag. After finally getting all my stuff situated in a locker, I was now ready to walk around and visit the Maison de Victor Hugo at the Places de Vosges and the Memorial de la Shoah. Upon nearing the Canal St. Martin I saw an internet cafe and was very happy to check my email. And I got a soda with it.
After spending a blissful hour with the internet, I move on to the Canal St. Martin and at the head of the canal, the Bastille. A very gorgeous statue in the center of a rotary.
Next, I continue onto the Places des Vosges, an upscale park area that's enclosed by a square residential complex with very expensive restaurants and art galleries on the ground floor. Victor Hugo lived here for a time and his former residence has been turned into a museum.
The Maison de Victor Hugo was very informative, but like a lot of museums it assumed you knew the basic history of his life. There was a particular woman, whom I can't remember the name of, in his life that was very influential and the information plaques kept mentioning her like we already knew who she was. I didn't, so it was a bit of a mystery of putting his life story together. There was an entire floor dedicated the photographs of Hugo that were taken by his son, I think, and maybe some that were taken by himself. There were numerous photos of his family included too. The upper floor was the apartment section and they included a map of the original layout as the current one had changed since Hugo lived there. In order to make the museum one of his life, instead of just the period Hugo lived there, each room was decorated in the style of a certain part of his life. They had furniture and decorations from his other residences, or in the style of his other homes in order to get the feel of what it was like to live like Victor Hugo.
When I exited the Maison it was raining and I didn't have my umbrella. Therefore since the Places des Vosges was covered all the way around I took a stroll and looked in the windows of all the art galleries and became very jealous of the people eating delicious looking entrees in the restaurants. At this point, the closest thing I'd had to a real meal was QuickBurger so the jealousy came fast and easy. I was really tempted to steal the bread out of baskets that were just sitting by the registers unattended. There were a lot of people there...they would have never noticed...but I didn't. The rain had let up some by the time I'd finished my loop around the park so I headed out to the Memorial de la Shoah.
The Memorial de la Shoah which opened in January of 2005 is "the largest research, information and awareness raising centre in Euripe on teh unprecedented history of the genocide of teh Juews during the Second World War" (from the guide the Memorial gave me). The Memorial was extremely informative, almost a little too much for me. I was fatigued, partially sleep-deprived and maybe a little jet-lagged so my concentration was limited and I could only absorb so much information. The Holocaust is also a very heavy subject so the information weighed down on my brain a little more than a basic museum.
The entrance to the museum leads you through the Wall of Names. It is pretty much what you'd expect when you hear "the Wall of Names." It is a series of walls with the first and last names and year of birth of the 76,000 Jewish men, women and children who were deported from France between 1942 and 44. They are presented by the year of deportation and in alphabetical order. It's a powerful thing when you see all those names listed as its a visual cue to a tiny, tiny portion of the people who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Once in the museum you descend downstairs into the Crypt. It is a symbolic tomb, a large empty space with a black marble Star of David in the center of the space. In the center lie the ashes of victims collected from various camps all over Europe laid among the soil from Israel. The star is really beautiful and I like it better than the memorial that is near Notre Dame.
In a portion of the wall in the crypt are books of remembrance which commemorate victims of the Shoah. There is also a back room attached which house the police files on the Jews; individual and family records of Jews who were persecuted, arrested and deported. This was another visual aid to process the amount of people who were deported and persecuted during the Holocaust. The number of boxes with files in them in this section was outstanding.
After visitng the crypt, I go down another floor to the permanent exhibition where the history of the Shoah is presented. This section was not large in terms of space, but the amout of information presented was enormous! I tried to read as much as I could, but like I said above...the heavy subject matter combined with my tired brain made it more difficult. What I was able to read and absorb was extremely interestng and informative and gave me a different perspective of the Holocaust. There were only 76,000 Jews deported from France so in comparison to the number of Polish Jews (which was in the millions), it's very small. But there is still a rich history of Jewish acceptance and living in France so to learn about that was really cool. At the end of the permanent exhibit was a memorial to the children deported from France. The small room has floor to ceiling, illuminated walls with photographs of only children who were victims of the Shoah. There are around 3,000 photos and it's a hard-hitting room.
After finishing with the museum, the sun was beginning to set and everything was closing so I started the trek back to Paris Bercy where I spend an hour or so reading a book. When my train arrived I boarded and experienced my first European night train. I will discuss more of this in another post dedicated to all train travel later but I will say it was an interesting experience. We depart Paris and head into the night towards Italy. Arrival time in Milan was 630AM.