Here in France every year since 1984 two weekend days in September are designated Journées du Patrimoine – Heritage Days. Having been started by France as Open Door days when ordinary citizens were given access to visit places normally closed to the public; the President’s palace, the Prime Minister’s residence, France television studios, artists’ workshops, historic buildings and all sorts. The idea was adopted by the Council for Europe and by 1991 became the European Heritage Days; the doors are open all around Europe this weekend.
The Journées du Patrimoine are hugely popular, long queues at the favourite places are legendary. This year I’m confined to barracks with my recent foot surgery but my intrepid DB made it his mission to visit the Elysée Palace – the residence of the President of France – get photos and tell me all about it.
First up, advance research was essential to confirm door opening time and entrance point: 8am at Avenue Gabriel the goal. DB was up early, 6am out the door and en-route via Velib bicycle soon after. He arrived at the entry gate by 7am and reckons from there he walked at a brisk pace for 5 minutes to reach the joining point of the queue out on the Champs Elysées! Four hours, 2 security check-points, a pat-down and metal detector scan later, he gained entry to the palace gardens to join another queue for the palace interior.
Eventually he arrived inside, the tables were all set with fine china, fine linen and pretty flowers and Francois Hollande was in residence meeting and greeting. Alas DB did not get to meet Monsieur le President, but he did snap a photo from the sidelines. DB was most impressed with the fabulous tapestries, the furnishings and the remarkably good crop of tomatoes in the Presidents garden.
The Elysee Palace has been the official residence of France’s Head of State since 1874. It was worth the wait – once.