A Travellerspoint blog

The City of Lights

Paris - Day 3

sunny 22 °C

Last night I understood why Paris is known as the City of Lights. Our day was in two parts yesterday - one in bright sunshine and one which was almost as bright but with an illumination that was man made. Throughout the day and evening we saw so much evidence of the Parisienne love of the outdoors and the way that they come together in parks and public areas like the banks of the Seine - something that we, from our big block of land, suburban life do not fully comprehend.

As it was a Sunday, we started slowly yesterday. I use Sunday as an excuse but in addition once again there was a football match I wanted to follow on the other side of the world. Sadly yesterday's result wasn't the happy experience I'd enjoyed in other weeks and really wasn't worth staying home for but at least I had a sunny Parisienne sky to console me.

We made our way to the Pont Neuf - that ironically named bridge which is actually the oldest bridge in the city. The river was thriving with life both on and beside it and it was again slightly surreal to walk amongst the crowds and touts and view so many familiar and beautiful sights. We paid homage to Henri IV at his statue and then wandered onto the Ile de Citie and explored the river banks there. In the most unlikely spot in a a narrow street on the edge of the isle, we found a plant nursery - ah la Bunnings - which was on the edge of the bird and plant market. I was wondering who would be buying plants there - clearly not tourists - but Hugh reminded me that people live there and have to get them somewhere!

Coming up the other side of the isle, we spotted a queue and then we saw Notre Dame. The queue was somewhat off putting so we confined ourselves at this time to taking photos from the outside. There is a massie viewing stand in front of the cathedral which somewhat restricts the chance of the grand photo and makes the whole area feel a bit nasty. It's still a magnificent building but it's possible that we didn't see the best of it. Also off-putting were the sight of local security forces armed with machine guns - wasn't going to argue with them.

Back on the Left Bank, I dropped into the famous Shakespeare and Company - the legendary English language bookshop that opened in the middle of the Lost Generation in the 1920s and which still celebrates literary life in an area that would be unrecognisable to Hemingway and co. I love a bookshop at the best of times and could have spent ages in there but there were only so many phone calls that Hugh could make to kill time and so many books that we can carry in our luggage.

From there it was a light lunch in a streetside cafe and then a walk through the Latin Quarter. There isn't really a sense of what the area was like in its literary heyday. It's really a mass of souveneir shops and cafes in the main but when we got off the main drag and wandered down some side alleys, the world was kind of different and rather nice. Hugh and I really aren't ones for tourist sites in the main. We like to look and explore and discover our own things rather than following the beaten track and queueing! It might be a little cafe where we just prop and have a drink rather than the chaos which is Le Deux Maggots or a small church which is 500 years old and in which you can just wander and wonder rather than queuing for Notre Dame. We don't expect everyone to understand but then it's our holiday isn't it.

We ended up walking home through Saint Germain and into our own Arrondissment. It had been a heft walk and we were a little weary so relaxed and slept a little before going out again. In the evening we took the dinner city lights boat tour from outside the Tour Eiffel. We went on board a bit before 8 o'clock and came home a little after 11. In that time we saw the city via the Seine from one end to another seeing old and wonderful Paris and new and vibrant Paris. We also saw the Parisiennes enjoying the warm April evening in groups along the river - having picnics or sharing a bottle of wine wherever there was space to do so - fabulous energy and involvement. We've always been a little wary about doing something like the cruise because either the food is very bad or the commentary is cheesy and off putting or the boat is really crowded and you're packed in like sardines. I shouldn't have worried. This is Paris so the food and wine were delicious. The "commentary" consisted of our waiter popping up and telling us when we were passing important milestones and there was lots of space. It was fantastic! I know I've said that I feel we are living the cliche and this was the case last night again - it was magical and surreal and unmissable!

Posted by dawnandhugh 14:10 Archived in France Tagged bridges buildings boats meals Comments (1)

A little culture

Paris - Day 2

semi-overcast 17 °C

Our second day in Paris and further confirmation that we're not going to get everything done or see everything that everyone thinks we should - or that we'd like to. Apart from anything else, we're five weeks into a six week trip and we're getting a little tired. That's not blunting our enthusiasm but our energy levels need managing.

Today started off promisingly sunny and was enough to send Hugh out in shirtsleeves and me thinking twice about wearing a jacket. In the end I wore it which I was glad of as the sun didn't last but it was a good start to the day. After a coffee, we set off wandering past the Ecole Miltaire and past the glorious Tour. The school is fascinting for the sight of the bullet and shell marks in the wall and wood work and one wonders which of France's revolutions and uprisings were the cause.

We'd been recommended to spend some time in the Rue de Cler which is written up as the quintessential Parisian street shopping experience.We had a petit dejeuner of coffee and croissants there before experiencing the sights. The food displays were works of art and, amazingly, are typical of what you find in towns and cities all over France. The pride in product whether it be natural raw ingredients such as asparagus or strawberries - which seem to stand to attention in pride - or the chickens roasted at the traiteur. All looked wonderful and our only regret was that we were on our way out so shopping seemed a bad idea at that moment.

After a small but necessary diversion when I booked a manicure for Monday afternoon - well I'm a) catching up with my beloved friends and family in the UK next week and b) have to have Parisian nails to show the lovely Elizabeth (my manicurist supreme) - plus we're going to dinner at Jules Verne restaurant at the Tour Eiffel (Alain Ducasse no less) on Monday night so have to lift my game!! After this was done we wandered through the backstreets toward the Seine. We really underpinned the value of random wandering as we spotted three embassies - including the British - and the place where Marshall Foch died. We also saw a magnificent church - St Clothilde - nothing feted but absolutely glorious!

Our target was the Musee d'Orsay. Our art adviser - aka my best friend Keri - had said that this was the gallery for me if we only did one and she wasn't wrong. We encountered our first queue for entry which was surprisingly long and we also encountered a security check. That would have been fine if Hugh hadn't had his Opinel knife and a waiter's friend in his vest. The security guy was fine and were simply escorted to the cloakroom and the "contraband" was checked in. What's annoying is that when he picked it up, nobody checked whether we were going back into the gallery so it was all for nothing really. The other really annoying thing was that there are lots of signs around the gallery regarding no photos which we absolutely understood given the treasures there. We stuck to the rules and got really really cheesed seeing so many people ignoring them without any interference - what is the point????

Having got the nasty bits out of the way, let me tell you that this is a wonderful experience and should be on everyone's list. I have more than a soft spot for Monet and impressionism in general and Hugh has now developed an interest in Pissaro which he will no doubt discuss with Keri in more detail back in Australia. The collection is vast and sympathetically presented. The building itself is magnificent and worth a visit in itself. It's also large enough for the huge number of visitors to be able to move around without falling over each other. We started at the top and worked our way down and loved it all.

In the middle, literally, we stopped to have lunch in the room that, when the building was still the Gare d'Orsay, was the restaurant of the Station Hotel. It was also lovely - I had Parmentier de Canard (sort of Duck Shepherd's pie) with salad and Hugh had Sea Bass ( a pattern is developing here). We both had creme caramel and champagne to drink. A lovely chat to a gentleman from Gloucestershire on the next table and a bright, cheeky French waiter and it was perfect. Fully sustained, we finished the Musee - replete in stomach and soul.

A cab back to our home area and a walk around the district exploring beyond the local block - marketing as locals do. We decided to eat at our Parisienne "home" tonight and picked up food and wine at a number of specialist shops in the area. Dinner was a simple quiche and salad and raspberry tart for dessert. We have some fruit leftover for breakfast tomorrow. Hugh has just done the dishes - with our grasp of the language he may have washed them with floor cleaner - and we're finishing our wine and then to bed. Tomorrow promises to be sunny and we're going out and about - which is what you do in Paris!

Posted by dawnandhugh 12:41 Archived in France Tagged art food Comments (1)


Day 1

rain 16 °C

There was a point when we arrived in Paris that I thought that we might not have enough to do in Paris to last the six days that we're here! How stupid am I???? Today was our first day of exploring and we've seen a teeny bit and that's all and I'm sure we can fill the rest of our time.

We slept well last night. The ability to open our windows and get fresh air was bliss as was the fact that we've got a queen size bed which is firm so we don't get closer than ever during the night. The alarm inevitably went off at 0630 and some time after 0730 we actually got moving. First thing was finding the Presse (dry cleaner/laundry) and dropping off Hugh's clothes. In the process, we found one of the neighbourhood boulangeries and bought croissants for our breakfast. Once the essentials had been consumed and completed, we headed off for a walk and aimed in the general direction of Les Invalides. As the name suggests, this was once a military hospital - the Parisian equivalent of Chelsea - but it's now a military museum and houses the Eglise Notre Dame and the tomb of Napoleon. It's a grand, sprawling affair with magnificent displays of armoury and uniforms from pre medieval times to the present day. So much to see and so much of it interesting. I especially loved the displays of suits of armour including the quite tiny affairs that were worn by Louis XIII when he was the Dauphin (son of Henri IV) and the horse armour. I also enjoyed the displays relating to the Revolutionary Wars and the time of Napoleon - it was like being in a living 18th Century History class.

After enjoying these displays - and passing on those relating to the First and Second World War - we went to the Eglise Notre Dame which was beautiful and spiritual. It was more in the Romantic style but was quite beautiful and the gentle music playing really added to the experience. While in the chapel, Hugh commented and asked what was behind the altar. We wandered out of the church and into the front of the building and found out There was a memorial chapel and crypt containing, as well as the tombs of Marshal Foch and other French heroes, the tomb of the Emperor Napoleon. He is a figure that fascinates and could easily be dismissed as just another dictatorial nutter but that would be too too easy. He was a brilliant general and a fascinating figure and I felt a real sense of his aura in the place.

We weren't really sure where to go next so we just went for a walk toward the river. We crossed the Seine and found our way to the Champ D'Elysees. I wasn't sure I'd got the direction right until I looked to the left and discovered a certain well known landmark (ie the Arc d'Triomph)! We stopped for a light lunch and then wandered up to the Arc and took photos and then struck off toward the Trocadero for some more photo opportunities. We've been warned about pickpockets and their tricks and have been extra cautious. I have a super lightweight handbag that just holds a purse, phone and lipstick (can't get by without the latter) and have that under my jacket along with my camera. Some of the efforts have been super amateur and I'm amazed that they work - especially the dropping the ring trick.

After the Trocadero - which looks a lot different than in the photo on our wall (which was taken in the 1920s) - we re-crossed the river in front of the Tour Eiffel. There had been a little rain during the day and Hugh suggested a cab back to the apartment. I thought we could manage a few drops and said let's walk. Then I discovered the limits of the waterproofing of my coat! It bucketed down and we got absolutely soaked!

It stopped long enough for us to a) book dinner for tonight and b) drop into a vintage shop where we'd spotted a Chanel handbag in my favourite colours - yep blanc et noir! I'm never going to buy a new Chanel bag but second hand, round the corner. in my team colours? Well guess what I'm carrying to the football???? Thanks Hugh for the best souveneir you could give me - apart from the memories.

After warming up with a shower and doing some washing, dinner tonight was in a local bistro. It was fantastic! The atmosphere was that of the local, the food was hearty and terrific. For those who are interested we shared oysters to start and then I had scallop and cepe risotto and Hugh had sea bass with leeks. He had crepes for dessert and we drank Sancerre. Lovely night and a great finish to our first day. To top it off, we looked up as we walked home, and the Eiffel Tower was twinkling at us over the buildings. Who knows what tomorrow will bring but I know it will be special!

Posted by dawnandhugh 13:18 Archived in France Tagged churches buildings food Comments (1)

Where it all ended..........


semi-overcast 16 °C

My apologies for missing yesterday's addition for those of you who are keen followers of this affair. I love the fact that you read it and let me know that you have and feel so guilty when I miss a chapter. Sadly yesterday saw me having another dose of gastro - might be the foie gras might not - and I was a bit floored by it last night and in no state to enter. I'm pleased to say that a night of abstinence, a good night's sleep and I'm fit and firing today and ready to enjoy Paris.

Yesterday we were priveledged again during our stay in Reims. It is, first of all, an incredibly lovely city with wonderful medieval buildings wherever you turn. It also has the wonderful cathedral Notre Dame which was the place where 16 French kings were crowned. The last was Charles X who was the Bourbon puppet that the victorious powers put in place following the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. I suspect that he was as good an advertisement for republicanism as any that France provided but the gowns and finery of his coronation were on display and were absolutely magnificent. I'm continually impressed when visiting churches in France by the fact that they're free. Some smaller ones are in the UK but to go into Westminster Abbey or St Paul's or even the York Minster is not cheap and, in most cases, photoraphy is not allowed. In France you are invited to make a donation and simply asked to be respectful - how nice is that? We both spent time in the cathedral and then I went through the museum at the Bishop's Palace next store - home of the afore mentioned memorabilia of Charles X's coronation, while Hugh went for a walk and waited for me.

We'd decided to leave the car at the hotel - in retrospect should have given it back to the hire car company sooner but who knew - and just walked. We found a 3rd Century Roman arch on the edge of town known as the Porte Mars. There was nobody but us there and it was incredible to see. It sits in a long park near the railway station and it was ironic to see this ancient splendour as a garish carnival set up on the other side of the path - that's Europe I think! Lunch was in a simple bistro on the edge of town - one course only for me and I didn't finish what I ate (should have guessed then!). Then it was down a dingy back street to the Lycee Franklin Roosevelt and another trip highlight.

Last weekend, we went to Pegasus Bridge which was the first site taken by the Allies during the retaking of Europe. Yesterday we visited the spot where it all ended. Yes, in a former schoolroom in a building which had become SHAEF's Western headquarters, the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich occurred on 7th May 1945. The room that was used is still looking as it did in 1945, with maps of the theatres of operations on the wall, and chairs laid out as they were when Jodl and his colleagues went in to end it all. It could have happened two days earlier but the Germans had hoped to make a separate peace with the Americans and British and to be allowed time to get their troops out of the Soviet zone. As the Allies had agreed on total unconditonal surrender, this wasn't accepted and with no real choice left to them, the Germans capitulated and placed themselves in the hands of the victors. It was quite surreal to stand in this unassuming room and to consider the history that occurred there. Amazing!!!

Today was all about getting to Paris. We dropped off the hire car this morning early and got a cab back to the hotel for breakfast and some last minute packing. Our train left at 1143 so we headed to the station about an hour early - because we hate being rushed. Probably just as well as the dimwitted taxi driver took us to the wrong TGV station out of town! I spoke to the lady at the desk and she explained the problem. We then had to get another cab back to Reims Central - which was almost walking distance from our hotel - where we managed to find our platform, get our cases and bags on and be in our seats with minutes to spare! I hate that!!! It was a 50 minute journey to the Gare D'Est and we then had to unload our cases and bags. Fortunately the platform was at street level and there was an appropriately sized cab available. He didn't have a GPS so we had the fun of him finding his way via a map book - so old school - but he got us here without fuss and we were met by the property manager representative

We've had a walk through the neighbourhood and a late lunch at a bistro. We've taken our first photos of the Tour Eiffel and done a little food shopping. I'll tell you more tomorrow.

Posted by dawnandhugh 07:42 Archived in France Tagged d-day ill Comments (1)

Age shall not weary them

Honouring our own.

sunny 15 °C

A change of landscape today. After seven wonderful days in Normandy, we packed up our belongings - filling the new suitcase with our new coats and woollens - and headed off for pastures new. Tonight I'm reporting to you from the lovely historic city of Reims which, along with its other charms, is also smack in the middle of the Champagne region so you know that bubbly is going to be on the menu. The weather was greatly improved today and we actually struck 15 degrees on the car temperature guide and we drove much of the day in lovely watery sunshine.

Not bad from the front seat of the car

Not bad from the front seat of the car

We didn't come straight to Reims, having made the decision to make a slight detour to pay our final tribute to the fallen. This was a much more personal visit for us Australians as we visited the Australian cemetery and war memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. In the First World War, on 24 of April 1918, the small town of Villers-Bretonneux was the site of the world's first battle between two tank forces: three British Mark IVs against three German A7Vs. The Germans took the town, but that night and the next day it was recaptured by 4th and 5th Division of the AIF at a cost of over twelve hundred Australian lives. The town's mayor spoke of the Australian troops on 14 July 1919 when unveiling a memorial in their honour:

"The first inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux to re-establish themselves in the ruins of what was once a flourishing little town have, by means of donations, shown a desire to thank the valorous Australian Armies, who with the spontaneous enthusiasm and characteristic dash of their race, in a few hours drove out an enemy ten times their number...They offer a memorial tablet, a gift which is but the least expression of their gratitude, compared with the brilliant feat which was accomplished by the sons of Australia...Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for..."

Our boys

Our boys

The people of Villers-Bretonneux continue to express gratitude to Australia to this day. The local school has a sign outside saying "never forget Australia"!

Visiting the memorial was as peaceful affair as you could ask for. It is located on the hill outside of town - the hill that was taken by the AIF and used as a launching place for Allied counter-attacks. There are nearly 800 Australians lying there along with British, Canadian and New Zealand soldiers. As always, it's the graves marked "An Australian Soldier" that are most poignant as one thinks of the families at home who had no place to mourn. There is the sense however that these boys are in a friendly soil and are loved and respected. Yes, we cried again as we walked amongst the dead and read the names of those not found on the memorial. The sight of an Australian flag at the memorial and of the sunburst badges on the gravestones brought home very close.

They shall never grow old

They shall never grow old

We will remember them

We will remember them

I sat quietly at one point and found myself repeating aloud

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them"

Hugh and I will certainly remember them - all of them. The dead of Normandy, of Pegasus, of Omaha, of Germany and, especially, the young men who gave their lifeblood 12000 miles from home doing what they thought was right. Anzac Day will have a different feel for me this year as I'll remember the ghosts of France. Such a priveledge!

Posted by dawnandhugh 09:18 Archived in France Tagged battles Comments (1)

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