Weekly photo challenge: Variations on a theme

Variations on a theme is the choice for this week’s photo challenge and given my tendency to photography a subject numerous times from various angles it wasn’t a difficult task. The difficulty for me was deciding between the doors of Venice, dogs of Italy, street art in Melbourne,  The Rape of the Sabine in Florence, Notre Dame Cathedral and so on. Sorting through my catalogue of images, the Eiffel Tower in Paris seemed an obvious choice. There are not many places in Paris that provide little or no view of the Eiffel Tower and I don’t care whether it is touristy, a cliche or over represented. I love seeing the tower rising out of the fog, peering from behind trees or twinkling in the dark, it means I’m on holiday in Paris and that always makes me happy.

 

An obsession with Paris

The Tuileries Garden in Spring
The Tuileries Garden in Spring

Perhaps it is because I have itchy feet or maybe it is a form of escapism, but I have recently become obsessed with finding and reading books featuring Paris. Although reading fiction has always been a passion of mine it is non-fiction that holds my attention at the moment, in particular memoirs, essays, and narrative history.

Currently on my bedside table is ‘Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)’ by Amy Thomas, a light and easy book to read especially if you have a sweet tooth. If you like more depth and less self-indulgence then this book is not for you. Amy works for an advertising agency and writes copy for Louis Vuitton, she loves chocolate and all things sweet and likes to make comparisons between her former life in New York and life in Paris. I have not yet finished reading it. Some of my favourite books featuring Paris that I have finished reading are:

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. A collection of 23 essays and journal entries chronicling the time he spent living in Paris with his wife and son. Paris to the Moon is a humorous portrayal of life in France, filled with personal observations and cultural commentary.

Paris Revealed by Stephen Clarke. I loved this book. Witty, informative and highly entertaining this book is a joy to read.

Joan DeJean’s book How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City. 17th Century Paris. The inclusion of illustrations from that period provides the reader with glimpses of life in Paris several hundred years ago before Haussmann stripped the city of medieval character to create the wide boulevards and squares that we recognise today.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter. I loved following John through the streets of Paris, he provides a fascinating view of parts of Paris that are not familiar to me (and there are many). Baxter refers to Hemingway and other authors frequently and after reading all the stories contained within ‘The Most Beautiful Walk in the World’ Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ is on my must-read list.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard. A true story that started when the author met and fell in love with a French man. Each chapter is interwoven with delicious food and recipes making this a delightful read for anyone who loves food and dreams of romance in Paris.

Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating: From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love. Journalist Ann Mah’s husband is given a diplomatic assignment in Paris, a dream come true but then her husband is called away to Iraq for a year and Ann is left alone.  To contend with her feelings of loneliness Ann decides to explore France and seek out regional dishes such as cassoulet, Boeuf Bourguignon, and crepes, delving into the history and stories behind these well-known dishes.

The Only Street in ParisLife on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino.  A tour of the author’s favourite street in Paris the Rue des Martyrs. Sciolino’s focus on this one particular street gave me a complete picture of what it must be like to live on Rue des Martyrs. I enjoyed reading her stories about the locals who lived and worked on Rue des Martyrs and the history of the buildings.

Macarons and chocolate, Paris
Macarons and chocolate, Paris

 

Early morning markets, Paris
Early morning markets, Paris
Fountain of Apollo, Versailles
Fountain of Apollo, Versailles

Wordless Wednesday: So sweet

Merveilleux and Incroyables - cakes
Merveilleux and Incroyables – composed of meringue filled with whipped cream and rolled with generous crumbles of chocolate or nuts

How many ways to see the Eiffel Tower

A view of the Eiffel Tower can be obtained from so many parts of Paris. We have seen it from a bus, on foot, from the Arc de Triomphe, shrouded in fog and sparkling at night. No matter how many times I see it, the sight still makes me smile and want to take a photo.

On this day…

On this day 3 years ago the hubby and I were celebrating my birthday in Paris, starting early at the Palace of Versailles and ending with a view of Paris lit up like a birthday cake. One of my most spectacular and memorable birthdays, browsing through my photos makes me smile and surprisingly I can still remember much of the detail.

Today was a quiet celebration at home with hubby and the two black dogs before heading off to work where my wonderful colleagues had organised a morning tea. A lovely day 🙂

Travel theme: Pale

Embracing the pale in my travel photographs was an interesting activity, pale often has such negative connotations but seeing the beauty in pale is actually very easy, there is something so appealing about delicate white blooms, snow on a mountain and the lightness of colour as the sun sets and rises.

Collection: Ghosts of history – Then & Now, combined photos

Ghosts of War - France

Collection: Ghosts of history – Then & Now, combined photos.

Historical photos laid over images of the same location as it stands today, if you love war history then you will love seeing this collection created by Historical Consultant, Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse.

Birthday celebration at the Palace of Versailles

Golden gate of Versaille
Golden gate of Versailles
The entry to Versailles
The entry to Versailles

Our last full day in Paris and my birthday, attraction of choice is the Palace of Versailles to see the extravagance of the palace and the musical fountain display that only happens on weekends for some of the year, starting in April. We had planned to be up early and on the first train, the red wine the previous night and the fact that we had walked all over Paris since arriving in the city had resulted in us being exhausted and in need of a sleep-in. To get to Versaille we catch an RER train from Gare d’Austerlitz, it is a 15 minute walk from the hotel and the sun god was shining on us so we are keen to be moving around. Once we arrive at our destination we have to walk another 15 minutes to get to the palace, there are two queues, one for tickets and one for people who already have tickets – thankfully we have our trusty museum pass and only have to line up once.

The sheer size and extravagance of the palace and gardens blows my mind. The weather was perfect and being a Saturday the French were picnicking by the canals along with all of the tourists. We had traipsed up to the Grand Trianon, a small scale palace or residence that Marie Antionette had influence in designing/decorating. The gardens were not all in flower and the trees were a little shabby but it was still worth seeing and the ostenatious nature of Versailles was not as obvious here. There is more of Versaille to see, the hamlet that housed Marie Antoinette’s handbrushed cows and other farm animals but it is too much to cover on foot and we make the trek back to the grand canal for lunch.

Hall of Mirrors
Hall of Mirrors

I’m so glad that we were there in time to see the musical fountain show, they really are a spectacular sight, we had just caught the end of the morning session and the afternoon session begins at 3.30pm. Marty finds a spot near a small body of water and makes himself comfortable, the water show is in sync with classical music and runs every 10 minutes, the best place to be while waiting for the main event. Even though my feet are sore I head off in search for the roman influenced fountains and columns, they are not far from where Marty is resting and even closer is the Kings garden, a peaceful spot with flowering magnolia trees and shady spots well suited for a nap.

As 3.30pm approaches the crowd around the canal and the Apollo fountain thickens, cameras are out and all in attendance appear excited in anticipation of the show. It is very special, the sun shining and the water sparkles, the blue sky and rows of trees makes for an amazing backdrop, we wait, watch and then head back towards the palace, the show goes for an hour and a half and we want to beat the crowds back to the train. Again we realise that there is more to see, but we are ready to go back to Paris and see the city illuminated, hopefully we can make it back to Versailles another time.

The Apollo Fountain
The Apollo Fountain
The grand canal at Versailles
The grand canal at Versailles

 

Just a small part of the garden at Versailles
Just a small part of the garden

April in Paris

Louvre and Tuileries Garden

The day starts of early with hotel coffee and croissants, followed by the best coffee sipped slowly in the Luxembourg Gardens as we wait for the first hop on, hop off bus of the day. Joggers of all shapes and sizes run past and Parisians take their dogs for a walk in the grounds of the garden, you can pick out the tourists, we’re the ones with cameras dangling from our necks and photographing flowers, gates and trees. It is a wonderful and relaxing way to start our day of sightseeing.

There are four bus routes for the hop on, hop off buses and today we going to spend time on three of them just getting to the area below Montmartre to see Moulin Rouge and red light district, then we head up the hill to the Sacre Couer Church. Again the buses allow us to see more of Paris than we would on the metro and we can listen to the audio commentary to find out the history and detail of what we are looking at.

The streets around Moulin Rouge in the Pigalle are dirty and seedy looking, there are cheap and tacky shops lining the streets and plenty of interesting pictures posted in windows of the shopfronts. The overcast day contributes to the grey and grubby atmosphere. The walk up to Montmartre and Sacre Couer is via narrow cobblestone streets and of course we choose the street that all tourists use and on either side there are numerous souvenir shops selling the same t-shirts, magnets, posters and bags. Having read that this place is particularly popular with pickpockets and scammers we keep close to each other and pay attention to the surroundings. By the time we get to the bottom of the steps at Sacre Couer it is easy to see all of the guys preparing to wrap a rope bracelet around your wrist and a few children wanting you to sign something, we had seen them at Notre Dame as well and everybody gives them a wide berth so we follow suit.  A couple in wedding attire are having their photos taken on the steps, it is quite cold and she is in a pretty white strapless gown capturing everyone’s attention. Police are about, we didn’t know we were there until all the men selling souvenirs and fake designer goods started packing up the wares and walking towards a side street, the area was scammer free for a short time.

Bride on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, Montmartre Paris

Sacre Couer is a magnificent building and on a sunny day I imagine that it glows, the white material it is made of is apparently self cleaning, we walk around the back of the church to a garden and it certainly doesn’t look so clean from behind. The streets of Montmartre are hilly, the cottages and gardens are cute and there are a few little cafes away from the craziness of the overpopulated main street. Montmartre has always been a haven for artists, not sure if the artists are as successful as famous as previous inhabitants but if you want a portrait, caricature or painting of the local area then this is the place to go.

Lunch today was courtesy a most unfriendly lady in a stall on the Champs Elysee, still we enjoyed the double hotdogs with cheese in the Vincennes garden and they gave us the energy to climb the hundreds of spiral steps to the top of the Arc d’Triomphe. What a spectacular view and what a monument! From the top you can see the line formed by the 3 arches: Arch of Defense, Arc d’Triomphe and the Triumphal Arch – the Carousel in the Tuileries Garden. The trip down is easier, legs are a little wobbly and it is easy to miss a step when they’re narrow and spiralling downwards. From the Arc d’Triomphe it is a natural progression to wander down the Champs Elysee, about 2 kilometres in length it is home to expensive boutiques, car showrooms, restaurants and Laduree which sell expensive macaroons and is too busy for us to contemplate venturing in – we have to get to the Louvre.

The Louvre Museum, Paris

The fountains in Paris are empty and those in the Tuileries Garden are no exception, it is a tad disappointing however I’m sure that I will see enough fountains when we go to Versaille. The weather appears to be improving as we head into the glass pyramid outside the Louvre, queues are non-existent but we had read that the crowds were smaller on a Wednesday or Friday night when the Louvre was open until 10pm. The Louvre is incredible and we are easily confused so the ladies on the help desk come in handy, we head to the Sully wing to start our adventure and walk through the former medieval moat that has been excavated under the gallery – the temperature drops and behind us we can hear the clip clop of a woman in high heels (slightly annoying). To cut a long story short, we saw the big 3: Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo plus the Wedding Feast at Cana which is an absolutely monstrous painting that has us wondering where do you start when painting such a large artwork. The Louvre itself is a work of art, the frescoes on the ceiling causing me to look up regularly. There was no way that we could attempt to see it all, the focus was on the ancient Egyptian and Greek sculptures as well as some Roman and Etruscan artifacts (although we’ll see plenty in Italy), the big 3 and a few inspiring pieces in between by Botticelli and unknown artists – at least unknown to me. Outside the sun is shining at last and the sky is blue, it is the perfect opportunity to take a break and enjoy the view of the fountains and do a spot of people watching.

Tonight is dinner at a local restaurant in Rue Mouffetard, it is called the Grange and they have a 14 euro, 3 course menu to choose from and for another 8 euro we get a carafe of red wine. The Grange specialises in fondue and raclette, I can smell the cheese and although it is appealing both of us are keen for something a little more substantial and preferably with some form of vegetable. Marty chooses the steak with pommes and salad, I devoured the lamb chops and we both tried escargot with herb and garlic butter for an entree, the bread is free and keeps coming as we slowly eat our way through generous portions of food. The waiter does not speak much English – only a little as they all say in Europe, he sends his wife over instead and she speaks English well, if not a little gruffly. Most of the tables are full, customers are still walking in the door at 10.30pm – the French eat a little later than most we have been told. It was a wonderful evening, sleep came easy that night.