Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Encore France: The Remaining Days of Paris

Through the wonders of the Internet, and a love of Paris (not forgetting other parts of France), I have been fortunate in making a new friend, someone lucky enough to live in that beautiful city. One of her recent posts was simply about the pure pleasure of not doing anything particular in Paris but just strolling, just being, just breathing it in. That is our favourite way to spend time in the City of Light. We were never in a rush to visit Notre Dame de Paris, to soar to the top of the Eiffel Tower, to risk life and limb weaving in and out of the traffic to attempt to get a great photograph of the Arc de Triomphe or pushing through the jostling crowds for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.

From the very first moment in Paris we just wanted to slowly savour the place, to let it sink into our pores so that we would always take a bit of that moveable feast with us, and so we stroll, we sit and sip a rich dark espresso, we perhaps stroll some more, down little side streets with their promise of secret and delightful gardens, through the Marais with its wonderful shops. Or perhaps we amble along the banks of the Seine to watch the barges plough their way back and forwards, the young lovers entwined in Proust and each other, the fabulous houseboats such as the one with the old red car permanently parked on the top deck. We may then expend some energy by partaking of a perfect quiche and a pichet of house wine. And for afters? An even slower stroll, and a welcoming bench under a shady tree in the Tuileries. And then? Well, then we usually pick up something for dinner that evening and stroll – slowly, of course – back to our accommodation.

And so, instead of carrying on with a daily run-down of this, our second holiday to France, I will just share some of the images we came away with on those remaining days. I hope you enjoy, because Paris is:

visiting Place des Vosges



and enjoying a great coffee
and seeing where great writers lived.

It's the Wow factor of the Hotel de Ville.
It's discovering those secret gardens


and their charming inhabitants.


It's the almost aching beauty

of the grounds of the musee de Carnavalet.

And then another delight
and then another.

It's insane parking practices

and windows that tell a story.

It's the arches and history
of the Conciergerie.
It's the sun shining behind Tour Saint-Jacques

or through the windows at

the Dome des Invalides

or a marvellously witty window.

But mostly, Paris is not the place where we fell in love; it is the place we fell in love with.

Oh, and the friend I referred to? Do please visit her blog – it’s wonderful. She is both erudite and engaging, and I am sure that if I haven’t whet your appetite for a visit to l’hexigon she will. She is AdriainParis and you can find a link to her in the list of blogs I follow.                    

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Where have you been, Beejay?

How on earth has this happened? Where did I go, you must wonder? Well, somehow my committment to regular posting has been less than I believed myself capable of. Dare I promise to be better in future? Yes, I do.

So, having the report on this fantastic trip to France to finish, followed by another visit to Hong Kong and a few other holidays to share with you, I can see I have a mighty task in front of me. Am I up to it? Yes, yes, yes, but only if you say with me, "I believe. I believe. I believe." There, you believe, I believe = I will do it. Can't let us down now, can I.

Oh, and I'm still trawling, trawling, trawling through previous blog posts to reinsert all those lovely travel photographs which Blogger so kindly removed. Urgh, but enough said.

Back soon.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Encore France: Day 16, Up a Hill

What a lazy, cruisy day - what a day of few photographs but heaps of lovely mindprints.
Today we woke late, and then ambled along the river for a while, just taking in the boats plying their way backwards and forwards along the Seine, the lovers sharing books and baguettes, the children so chic in their mini-sized timeless classics. Freewheeling they call it, I suppose.
We still hadn't visited the Montmartre area or - sacre bleu - Sacre Coeur, so we decided to hop on a bus and head that way.
As I said before, our favourite way to get around Paris - other than by foot, of course, which is far and away the number one way to see this stunning city - is by bus, where you can actually watch the street scenes as you go. In this way we spotted this lovely church, the Eglise de la Saint-Trinite de Paris. So very beautiful. Looking at this photograph, I do wish we have left the bus at the next stop and spent some time exploring it.

Eglse St-Trinite de Paris
In due course we arrived at a bus stop which would allow us to wander through the laneways and sidestreets before making our way up the hill - and what a hill!  

The busy steps leading up to Sacre Coeur
We did catch the little train to the top of the hill, but we were amazed at the crowds filling the steps, a couple of whom were playing guitar and singing. The atmosphere was just wonderful.
We had been warned, though, to be on the lookout for the touts who ply their "trade" at the foot of the hill. They sell those little string friendship bracelets. Well, calling it selling is a bit of a misnomer. Many people find that by the time they have given a polite "No, thank you", there is already a piece of string tied around their wrist and payment is then demanded. We kept our hands in our pockets and walked on. 

Magnificent Sacre Coeur
Okay, it is one of the most photographed buildings in the world and instantly recognised, but when you get there you realise why it is so - it's fantastic! 

Sacre Coeur - the outside as beautiful as the inside.

Was there a downside? You bet there was. Of course there are going to be a zillion tourists visiting whenever you go. However, while we were there the place was so busy that our visit was more like being on a conveyor belt. Huge tour groups seemed to fill every space, and so we had to, basically, fall in with everybody else and shuffle along, being able to only pause briefly as we went for fear of being totally run over by one of the many extremely loud, extremely pushy groups. The behaviour of a couple of groups - and for the sake of international diplomacy I won't say where they were from - was, quite frankly, appalling in what is, after all, a church: young couples snogging, a couple of little boys tearing around on scooters, aggressive-sounding conversations being carried on at top volume, mobile phones ringing with a myriad different but always jarring tones. We were glad to get back outside. We will revisit, but when we do it will be an early morning visit.
By now it was early afternoon. We wandered around Montmartre for hours, enjoying the atmosphere even if it is almost a cliche because everyone seems to be looking for Amelie. It was a lovely day nevertheless, but nothing more for me to report here.
See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Encore France: Day 15, The Sights You See

It was lovely to have spent the night in a big, soft, comfortable bed. The only trouble was that the apartment has window shutters. I lived in Germany for some years when I was younger, but had totally forgotten how wonderful shutters are at shutting out the noise and the light. The consequence of that was that we slept so much later than we had intended, having woken a couple of times to a room in total darkness and gone back to sleep again, assuming that the day hadn’t yet arrived. Well, of course it had – and had been hanging around waiting for us for quite some time. 

After breakfast we set off for the day, firstly catching a bus to take us to Tour Montparnasse, that giant, dark edifice which sticks up like a Gallic finger across the road from Gare Montparnasse. Now, I know that there are people – purists, those who care about whether or not a building “fits” its surroundings – who absolutely hate the Montparnasse Tower.
The big, black Gallic finger.
We are not amongst those. Sure, it does stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, but it also provides fabulous views over Paris, views which allow you to actually view the sites you normally view the rest of Paris from, views that offer great photo opportunities, a la –
Sacre Coer from Tour Montparnasse
The Dome, les Invalides, from Tour Montparnasse
We enjoyed a tasty lunch up there in the clouds, and managed, of course, to pick up a couple of little somethings to bring home, my favourite being a delightful tiny glass owl. I think he hails from the Bordeaux region because he certainly looks as though he has been on some potent red for a few hours, being rather off to one side and decidedly giggly looking. I love that he is a “chouette”, a word that can describe my lovely little owl or which can be used to say that you are feeling pretty cool, happy, pretty laid back. It’s perfect for him, so much better than the serious label “owl”.

And the best view of Mr Eiffel's Tower, with the Trocadero behind it,
from Tour Montparnasse

After lunch we walked - never wandering lonely as a cloud because it would be impossible to feel lonely in a city you love – up and down side streets, admiring apartment buildings and florist shops, delighting at little private parks, until we made our way back across the river and to the Madeleine, or La Madeleine if you like, or, to give it its correct name, l’église de St-Marie-Madeleine, that beautiful church just along the road from Place de la Concorde and which I really love. What a bonus! As we entered we were blessed with the most heavenly sounds. We discovered that our timing was just perfect as there was a visiting youth choir, from Portsmouth in England, who were filling the building with their wonderful voices right at that very time. We sat, enraptured, and listened until they came to the end of their lovely performance.

The heavenly sounding Portsmouth choir at La Madeleine

What more was there to do this day except to wander off, with an even lighter step, up to the stunning Garnier Opera House to feast our eyes again on its magnificence. This time we didn’t bother taking any photographs but just spent time marvelling at its beauty and enjoying some quiet moments sitting on marble benches in its lovely corridors while others, perhaps first-time visitors, ooohed and aaahed over the décor which itself is an opera.

Love this statue of Edward VII - oops, French, please - Edouard VII,
outside l'Hotel Edouard 7, Avenue d l'Opera.

Back out in the street, we let our feet take us in whichever direction they wanted, and so we became blissfully lost, pausing once at a little bar for some wine and later, somewhere in the 1st arrondissement, for an absolutely delicious meal. As the sky over Paris darkened we found ourselves spotting a familiar sight – the Louvre, of course. They say all roads lead to Rome. I tend to think that all roads start at the Eiffel Tower and end up right in front of Mr Pei’s wonderful Pyramid and all that it draws you to. 

Just a couple more of my favourites taken from the Tour Montparnasse

Another wonderful day in a wonderful city. What will tomorrow hold?


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

What a Job!!!

As some of you know, recently all my photographs on this and my other blogs were "deleted" by Google for some reason. Oh, I wasn't singled out; it happened to zillions of people. Suddenly, lovely scenes of the idyllic French countryside, or Hong Kong Disneyland, or the Eiffel Tower were gone and in their place was a threatening looking black circle with an exclamation mark or, more recently, a triangle with an exclamation mark.

Why did it happen? Nobody has been able to provide any real explanation. It happened, and that is that. I did look at other blog platforms, but not being a computer whiz I came back to the lovely simplicity and user-friendliness of Blogger.

So, I guess all that is a long way to say: please be patient. I have so much to share with you, more trips to France with more leisurely cruises through the countryside, a visit to the stunning Norfolk Island, a return trip to Hong Kong, a day in Brussels, and - most recently - a cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong. However, I am slowly working my way through my old posts, beginning with the first trip to France, reinserting photographs and trying to do so with the care that I devoted to it the first time round.

I guess these things are sent to try us, aren't they. And, boy, are they trying, and so am I - trying my best to catch up, so please don't desert me. Check back regularly as bit by bit the photographs are coming back, and I will soon take you by the hand to share my travels with me.

Bye for now ... Me

The closing of the day near our home - often the loveliest sights are in our backyard.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Sooo Cruisy

Have to interrupt the French trip to mention that we recently went on a cruise, a Holland America Line trip from Singapore (one of our favourite spots in the world) to Hong Kong (another favourite), and, while I have no intention of spending the rest of my life cruising, it really is such an amazingly relaxing way to vacation - being totally spoilt, looked after, pampered, fed delicious foods, and doing as little or as much as you want. All that with some really interesting port visits, not to mention some wonderful sunsets.
Hm, might be up for one or two more cruises in the not too distant future.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Encore France: Day 14 - Back to Paris

A slightly warmer morning in Amiens, which goes to figure as it is time to return to Paris. After our usual wander around town we headed off to the railway station for our train back to the beautiful City of Light. 
On arrival we grabbed a taxi and went first to the Hotel Agora Saint-Germain to collect the luggage which we had left there before heading to the 7th arrondissement and the apartment we had booked on rue de l’Université. We had arranged to meet the apartment manager at the hotel at 14.30 and had confirmed this to her by email, giving her our train details etc. However, on arriving at the apartment block we discovered - surprise, surprise – that she wasn’t waiting, despite the fact that she had assured us that she would be there. I telephoned her and she expressed her own surprise, claiming that she wasn’t expecting us until later. She then said that she lived in the 14th and so it would take her some time to get to the apartment. She suggested that in the interim we should walk down to rue St-Dominique to check out the shops and said she would meet us outside the complex in an hour.  
Unfortunately, we now, of course, had all our luggage with us, but we had no choice and so we walked down rue Malar to rue St-Dominique. We noticed two supermarkets just literally around the corner, so fantastically convenient but the nearest place we could spot to sit down and have a coffee was a Starbucks. Now, not being American, we are not fans of Starbucks, finding their coffee pretty ordinary and not being enamoured of the whole way the place works, but at least we could sit down with our suitcases and while some time away in comfort and so we decided to go for it with one of their watery offerings. 
In due course we made our way back to the apartment, and within a few minutes the delightful young woman who managed the apartment came rushing along the street, ushered us into the building and up in the elevator to the apartment which would be our home for the next week.  
I had found and booked the apartment through VRBO, and realise that photographs on such sites – as with professional photographs of hotels – are often not that reflective of the reality. What looked quite stylish on the website looked rather tired and in need of renovating in reality. However, it was a fairly modern apartment, in a lovely quiet complex with a really attractive courtyard garden, and with fantastic double glazing (and the weather was cccold, shiveringly cold) and window shutters.  
The décor was, shall we say, different. The bathroom really gave us cause to pause. It was all gold and marble and – well, basically, gaudy, and also in dire need of some work as there were tiles which were chipped or loose, a mirror which was cracked, a cupboard door which didn’t quite close, and a toilet that needed three or four goes to flush each time. The bedroom was so OTT it was amazing. There were heaps of cupboards, which was great, and the bed was very comfortable. However, there was a bamboo-like wallpaper behind the bed, wallpaper that had the texture and look of one of those thatch fences which seem so popular amongst people wanting to create the Bali look in suburban homes. But then we noticed the wallpaper on the ceiling. My mind tries to forget, but I think I remember it as being very ornate and with lots of gold flecks. Eeee!  The kitchen was functional, as long as you kept a dish sponge in the sink to absorb the sound of the drip, drip, dripping of the tap which was probably in need of a new washer. There were plenty of glasses and dinnerware, and a great waste chute which we made good use of, not being used to such things. There was a second toilet, in a small room which also housed the washing machine, and at least this one seemed to have no issues regarding flushing, but it did have one of those wooden seats, which I always think are very suss hygiene-wise. The living area looked fine, containing a couple of settees and a dining suit. The dining suit was great, but the two settees were well past retirement age, sloping dangerously towards the floor at one end and just offering a selection of different sized lumps and bumps in other places. We found it far more comfortable to just sit on the floor. The carpet was pretty grotty, being quite badly stained and also quite worn in places. 
Nevertheless, this was our first apartment in Paris and most of these things just seemed quirky. Besides, the place was beautifully warm, the bed huge and comfortable, the location fantastic, and we simply looked forward to living there, in a complex with locals and being able to get a feel of living in Paris. So, happily accepting the keys and signing the contract, we promised the manager that we would call her if we had any issues but assured her that we had no doubt all would be just wonderful, we walked back to the entrance hall to see her out. Oops, where had that front door gone? Hang on a moment. We came in through a door here somewhere, we know we did, but there was now no door leading off that entrance hall other than the doors to the bedroom, kitchen and laundry. Where was the front door? As we chatted to her I looked all around the room – yes, door, door, door, curtain. Curtain? Why hadn’t I noticed that heavy floor to ceiling curtain when we came in? And why would there be a window there, on an internal wall? And then she moved toward the curtain, pulled it to one side, and – voila – there was the front door. This was the first time we came across that (to us) crazy concept of hiding the entrance with a curtain. I’ve heard various theories on why it’s done, from thermal insulation to hiding possessions from tax assessors (yes, seriously). Whatever the reason, it does strike us as passing strange. We sometimes closed that curtain just to confuse ourselves. Weird. 
I unpacked our luggage, checked out all the nooks and crannies in the apartment, and then we headed off to the famous rue Cler, that favourite street of American tourists but which is almost a cliché, to fill our basket with delicious cheeses, pates, olives, hams and tomatoes. We found a wonderful patisserie on rue St-Dominique just before rue Cler and bought some delicious bread and a couple of delicious Opera cakes 
After depositing our goodies back in “our” apartment we wandered – of course – through to the river, strolling arm in arm down to the Eiffel Tower, and then back the other way as far as the National Assembly building. We then turned again, took a walk around les Invalides and then back along rue St-Dominique where we passed people dining at tiny little Parisienne tables outside charming looking bistros, enjoying the wonderful aromas issuing forth from inside, and pausing to admire the lovely wares on offer in the shop windows along the way. 
Ah, and we knew that we were back in Paris when we saw this classic piece of Paris parking. 
How do they get out in the morning?
(Actually, how do they get in?)
Tomorrow I’ll be offering more photographs as we visit Tour Montparnasse for the best views in Paris, drop in to the Madeleine to listen to angelic voices united in song, and have our eyes glazed over again by the opulence of the Garnier Opera House. I hope to see you then.