Tag Archives: France

Paris Icons

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”       Ernest Hemingway – ‘A Moveable Feast’                                                                        

Elsewhere I’ve posted ‘Paris – Ville Lumière‘ and the interest it garnered has resulted in a pointed prod to produce another photographic essay that concentrates on iconic images of that splendid city. If you have good walking shoes, the time and the stamina, Paris offers a plethora of grand architectural and historic buildings, around almost every corner a charming, oft unexpected site, whether a flowered garden, a statue and fountain or a mouth-watering food stall in a neighborhood street ‘marché’ that caters to the fastidious eating habits of Parisians.  I will not offend by identifying the obvious, such as the Tour Eiffel or Notre Dame, however, now and then I’ll add a dash of spices, tidbits of interesting information perhaps useful to make your future foray to ‘La ville lumière‘ more  pleasurable.  Bon voyage!

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.

P1020576

Astride ‘La Butte Montmartre’, fabled domain of the artistic and bohemian, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur keeps a watchful eye over its people.

P1050831
P1020431
P1020239
Allow me to offer a useful bit of advice to the future visitor.  The scenic photos of the Sacré Coeur  above are taken from the rooftop patio at the shopping mecca known collectively as Printemps and Les Gallery Lafayette.  There’s no entry fee and it offers the best photographic vista, 360 degree around, of what’s interesting to be seen in Paris, as in the photos.  Furthermore any woman is delighted by the eclectic and fine quality shopping and a man can easily find that gift he needs bring back home.  A winning combo by any standard.
P1020276
P1020291
P1050861
The Centre Pompidou (center) the foremost tourist magnet in all of Paris; when you consider what it comes ahead, Notre Dame and the Tour Eiffel, just to name two, it’s quite a compliment to its successful incorporation of several cultural venues.  The new city library and the largest museum of modern art in Europe are but two of the attractions in this ‘high-tech’  design that ‘turned modern architecture on its head’.
P1020380
P1020504
Place Georges Pompidou’ in front of the museum is particularly noted for eclectic and often novel entertainment, mimes, jugglers, bands, street performers; offered for a small donation, freely given I might add, relaxed crowds gawk and applaud on any given day.
P1020540
In colorful Mongolian garb a trio set up in front of Le Centre Pompidou to offer authentic ‘throat’ singing accompanied by fine musicianship on traditional instruments.  If you’ve not heard this complex and unique form of singing go to YouTube and type in ‘Mongolian throat singing’.  You’ll find several choices – amazing control.
P1020536
This clever fellow created humongous soap balloons – imagine back to the time when you’d have given up all your precious toys for that kind of magical power. Check out the rapt expressions on the children, and the not so young.
P1020527
P1020538_2
For a brief moment the young lady fancies her chances of capturing a bit of bubble magic – not quite as it soon burst.  During the twinkling of an eye though she was a child again and that’s  priceless.
 
P1020524_2
Paris is a shopper’s delight – Dior luxury goods and of course world renowned brand names in fashion.
P1020826
P1020825
On the Champs Elysées, luxurious co-exists now with the mundane, such as Burger King and MacDonald’s.  No photos of those in my camera, needless to point out.
P1050627
P1050624
The old elegance with the extra cool new design in automobiles.  
P1020151
Paris offers the best and most varied  entertainment one can imagine.  At almost every street corner or ‘place‘ you’ll discover  talented artists plying their trade in return for a voluntary donation on your part.  Below, this woman plays a manual organ, hand-cranked with vigor while singing with verve traditional songs associated with the incomparable Edit Piaf.
The lissome accordionist is found on the Place du Tertre a stone’s throw from the Sacré Coeur; if you want to hear a fine rendition of the  theme from ‘Emilie’ and other golden oldies, check her out.  Talented buskers at every corner and well worth lingering to give a listen and maybe drop a coin.
P1020395
A jazz band up for the week-end from the south of France served up an upbeat and fun performance in front, appropriately enough, of the Académie Nationale de Musique.
Very professional, super hip – a cool jazz band and fine vocalist entertain the lucky passers-by, me included. 
P1020938
City Hall and the ubiquitous carousel, a children’s delight seen everywhere in France.
L’Arc de Triomphe du  Carrousel’ looking from the nearby Louvre up the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe at the top, both built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories.   The obelisk (also due to Napoleon’s military excursion to Egypt) is visible about half-way.  A splendid stroll by any standard that can be named, anywhere.
P1050729
P1020240
P1050681
From atop  the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ a comely visitor captures a souvenir photo looking down Les Champs Elysées; at the top end of the photo, the Louvres museum.  The Eiffel Tower shows up from almost any angle anywhere within the city.
P1050721
P1020206
Photo editing magic! What is she pointing her camera at?
P1020200
The Champs-Elysées and the slightly insane traffic below.  The one thing that a driver must never do is stop for whatever reason.  I’ve even witnessed minor bumper to bumper hits but I’ve never seen even a driver  stop to check for damage – it’s part of the game.
P1050687
The crazy traffic below, drivers navigating their way to one of the 12 avenues that make up the spokes of the Etoile.  My first time I was forced to go around twice before I mustered the courage to just head for my exit and miraculously managed to do so without a scratch.  Hence, every time I’m in Paris whether I need to or not I force myeelf to drive around just to get my driving brain adapted to the helter-skelter traffic, and okay, I now consider it fun especially if I have a neophyte along for the ride so I can show off my ‘cool’.
P1050700
Note no lanes or any kind of traffic pattern indication – you just make up your own driving path as you go.  Democracy or is it anarchy?  Somehow it works.  Oh, by the way this was in mid-morning in what is considered light traffic. 
P1050698
From the top of the Arc de Triumphe – the ever present Tour Effeil and below a panoramic view of Paris.
P1020198
P1020204
The Louvre and it’s iconic pyramid entrance, once an object of controversy now a proud symbol of architectural imagination melded with practicality.
P1050859
P1020468
P1050842
From the concourse outside a peek at ancient sculptures cleverly displayed – great if you’re in a hurry, and best of all no entrance ticket need be purchased.  
P1020460
This young couple in the ‘Jardin des Tuileries’ somehow couldn’t find enough free room on a bench; they opted to share the same space, vertically.  Nice!
P1050851
Historic, splendid, iconic Notre Dame Cathedral.   I believe it’s impossible to take a poor photo from any angle.
P1020603
P1050935
Inside Notre Dame, glorious glass rose, the main transept and splendid pipe organ sights that never cease to reward my visits, no matter how often over the years. 
P1020573
P1020580
P1050928
One of the famed gargoyles keeping a close watch on the City of Lights!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
P1050929
La Conciergerie, a historic building that includes the remnants of the oldest royal palace in Paris, dating to the beginning of the 14th Century.  Later displaced in favour of  the Louvre as the royal residence, it’s located on the historic and charming Ile de la Cité, the island in the middle of the River Seine just up from Notre Dame.  Today it houses the Prefecture de Paris police and various legal offices and trial courts.
On the Pont Neuf, a glittering bridge spanning the Seine leading to the Left Bank and in the background the Invalides, a fine military museum displaying memorabilia of past wars and especially Napoleon’s impressive tomb.
P1020789
P1020758
When I checked out this photo the results were rather surprising – first of all I couldn’t quite fathom other than the Obelisk in the Place de La Concorde what were the other two buildings.  ‘Mon grand ami‘ set me straight; the second building with the columns was the ‘Palais de Bourbon’ where the French Assembly meet and in the background the Invalides.  What had thrown me was the fact the Seine River flows just in front of the Palais but it’s not visible and I wouldn’t have guessed except he lives permanently in Paris.  Lucky fellow!
In front of the imposing Pantheon where the ‘great and noble’ of France are honored in final homage.  Of great interest it’s where Foulcault set his famous instrument, a pendulum that proved the existence of the earth’s rotation – check it out it’s still doing its thing without a hick-cup.  It’s impressive and for me at least, a hint to understanding our home planet’s incredibly precise ride though the cosmos.
The Palais du Luxembourg is the seat of the French Senate.  However, it is best know for  a 25-hectare formal garden populated by statues, ‘parterres’ of green lawns and stately treed aisles for leisure strolls.  There are large basins of water where children (of all ages) sail model sailboats; there’s also an apple and pear orchard and an excellent ‘théatre des marionettes’.  For those with a nostalgic bent (mea culpa) I recommend finding a Joe Dassin rendition of a splendid “Le Jardin du Luxembourg‘ and if you’re like me listen and allow yourself a heartfelt sigh.  He was the much loved troubadour of an entire generation of the young and the young at heart.  RIP Joe.
P1020921
P1060099
P1020935
Methinks I’ll now listen to Joe reminding me of a time when life was simpler and notions of friendship and love weren’t looked upon as the domain of romantic, emotional fools.   That’s it for now mes amis.  Next time I’ll take you along to lovely Nancy and regal Reims.   A bientôt
Advertisements

Chateau II – “What a Man!”

What follows is a factual story recounted for your amusement as long as you solemnly make a promise (between you, me and our personal deity) to  read it without judgement or worse a raised-eyebrow cynical appraisal of my action.  If you can’t in the depth of  your heart do so, please close this post and move on.  The ‘dramatic’ event happened two decades ago, at the gloriously beautiful Château de Chenonceau.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

This true anecdote may tickle your funny bone, or you may scratch your head and wonder about why a grown man would behave in such a manner.  Several years ago I and my traveling companion Hélène left the lovely town of Blois early for a quick start to what was planned as another stage in our private Tour de France.   It was exactly on the 19th of April, so she tells me; the sky was a radiant blue however unseasonably cool with a blustery wind adding a stinging bite to near frigid conditions.  The parking lot was some distance from the chateau and as we were walking my lovely friend who had donned a thin, spring jacket visibly displayed ed signs of discomfort by hugging herself and shivering.

Ever the gentleman I rescued her by offering my Coq Sportif ski jacket that I had been wise enough to choose for the day.  Well, we come up to the chateau and just as we are about to cross the bridge leading to the entrance, I suggest that I’d take a photo of her.  I turn to take a few steps back and almost immediately hear a heartfelt, “Oh, no!”  I wheeled around and she was  peering over the stone parapet into the moat some twenty feet below.  Looking down I see my jacket sedately floating down towards the Cher River not far off to the left.

(Twenty years later back to survey the scene – almost nothing changed except for definitely changed hair colour, damn!)

How did that happen? Always fastidious about her appearance (also a tad vain as are most attractive women), Hélène didn’t want to be wearing an over-sized jacket, removed it and set it some distance away atop the parapet.  As luck would have it a sudden blast from a particularly petulant Zephyr blew it off to the waterway below.

Now what? As you can see from the photo, across the moat stairs lead down to the water’s edge.  That turned out crucial to the rescue operation I soon devised.

A rowboat was tethered to the wall a little farther but obviously under lock and key – no joy there.  Without a clue as to what exactly I might do,  I ran down to the steps and that being as far as I could go I necessarily had to make what one might refer to as an ‘executive decision’.  Did I have a clue?  Would I really?

First I put my hand in the water and it was as I feared – ice cold!  No matter, I made a mental calculation that if I felt anything really amiss, such as an incoming heart attack, I’d turn back.  Without further consideration lest I chickened out, I stripped down to my bikini briefs and gingerly so I wouldn’t get my hair wet slipped into the water; now with a stately breaststroke I set off on the rescue mission.  All the while I’m watching my jacket gently sailing down towards the swift flowing river but thankfully an air bubble kept  it afloat.  I’d absolutely not have wanted to dive in after it.  Finally, I caught up to it (perhaps a distance of some 20 metres) and turning around I started back half tossing forward, half pushing it in front of me.  Oh, I forgot to mention that after the initial few strokes my briefs had slipped down to my knees and I had no choice but to removed them and toss them back to where the rest of my clothes were piled up.

Remember we had been the very first car in the parking lot and in the heat of the action I’d not noticed newcomers had arrived on the scene – in fact it turned out to be three busloads of Japanese tourists.  They were now lined up on that same little bridge surely wondering about strange ‘gaijin‘ behaviour – perhaps a Spring Rites ritual?  I didn’t yet notice them but as I swam up to the steps Hélène was now waiting for me but so was a young blond woman who had shown up as well..  Sheesh, I’m stark naked, think I.  Well no matter, I’ll scramble up to the ledge backwards so she doesn’t get shocked by the ‘Full Monty’ but when I turn around there are about one hundred cameras aimed at me.  I decide one is better than a hundred fold and make my way out of the water offering a backside view to the 100 cameras.  (I vaguely hear a spattering of applause and even one cheeky wolf-whistle proving contrary to some opinions that the Japanese do have a sense of humor.) What a lovely young woman she turned out to be!  It took me a half-second to realize when she stepped forward she was holding a large, dry towel to wrap around my shoulders.  It turned out she was a backpacker from Switzerland and correctly surmised I’d need something to dry myself, especially in that temperature.

Apparently only mildly concerned, my navigator/companion was asking how I felt and just about then my entire body, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes started to tingle, something akin to a million bees swarming all over me.  I said, “I feel fine except I’m wondering what is going on with my skin?”  In the meantime she and my good Samaritan were rubbing me down and in about 30 seconds as quickly as that strange sensation had come the tingling ceased.  I had by then put on my dry jeans and shirt and it wasn’t until some years later that I  learned that what I’d experienced was the onset of hypothermia.  After profusely thanking my benefactress we started back up when two uniformed guards from the castle rushed over and invited us to go inside the castle where a rip-roaring fire was  burning in the main chimney.  “Venez vite, il y a un grand feu dans la cheminée pour vous réchaufer.”

Non; merci beaucoup!” I managed to utter with all the dignity I could muster, “In Canada where I come from we prefer cool water to swim in.”  No kidding, that’s the best I could come up with but I wasn’t about to go in and face all those tourists who’d surely snap more photos.  As well, how can you explain that you went in to retrieve a mere sports jacket?

Holding my head high, arm in arm, we marched off in quick-step unison.   Coming to the car I automatically  reached for the keys and that’s when I immediately realized that my imprudent bravado had an unsuspected reward, in fact a felicitous outcome of no small measure.  “Here,” I disingenuously claimed, “here’s why it was imperative for me to rescue the jacket.”  I held out the contents of the right side pocket – the car keys, my wallet with all my IDs, driver’s license and almost $1000 in French money when it meant a good week of traveling expenses.  The day before I’d cashed in a Traveler’s Cheque for that amount.  The bills were just a little wet around the edges but otherwise all was in good shape.  My jacket has zippers on the side pockets and without consciously thinking about it I had closed it almost totally; what marvelous design.  Notice I said, ‘has’ as I still have it but only occasionally wear it so as to prolong its useful life.  Quickly I swallowed a couple of  2-22 pills (strong Canadian aspirin) and would you believe it I escaped the watery incident without so much as a sneeze.

Feeling no pain in the warm car and so it appeared nothing more than a casual afterthought I later asked if she’d had any concerns seeing me in a situation, “Fraught with danger!” I was definitely exaggerating yet wanted her to feel a little guilt for my enforced swim, but only a tad.  Cleverly nimble, Hélène neatly deflected the implied guilt by claiming to have thought while taking this photo, “What a man!” And that she’d genuinely felt a very warm feeling for me for being so bold as to jump in to repair her unfortunate mishap. My ego satisfied I merely nodded in agreement.

For better or worse one constant in my life has been a sense of loyalty, not just to people but to things as well, for example I drive my cars until they are done, kaput, period.  This jacket traveled around the world with me; it’s a stylish black, easy to fold, light yet keeps me warm on all but the coldest days.  In other words I feel a great deal of affection for it and of course having saved the beginning of our European wanderings means I owe it my loyalty.  The day it no longer is wearable it will be honorably retired but remain in my clothe closet as a reminder of when I was young and foolish, oh all right, not that young but still full of vim, vitality and just a tad of welcome impetuosity intact.

Almost twenty years later, my splendid Coq Sportif yet keeps me snug and warm,  This pic was taken last year in Stanley Park following a rare Vancouver snowfall.

Now you are privy to this rather odd anecdote, one that until now only a handful of people had heard about and even they weren’t in on the whole truth.  I always made it a point to underline that I needed to retrieve the keys and my wallet.  The unvarnished truth is I went in for my jacket and nothing else as I’d never thought, not for one second, about the vital contents of that one pocket.  Loyalty, in whatever form it is expressed can only be rewarded, do you not agree?  And come to think of it and please don’t think it a dark thought, rather a happy one – when I’m laid out for the final journey, no ill-fitting suit please, but  let me be decked out in my lovely Coq Sportif jacket, I’ll surely feel snug and safe for the unknown journey ahead.

Cancale ‘oyster capital’ of France

“I do not weep at the world I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”  
Zora Neale Hurston

Cancale is a dream of a little town, located on  the northernmost point of Bretagne, rubbing shoulders with Normandie; with just about 5000 permanent residents its big enough to offer all the amenities you might want, fine hotels, B & Bs catering to different sized wallets, seafood restaurants and food shopping if you linger a while and have cooking facilities.  Yet it’s small enough to be cozy and take no time to discover all the nooks and crannies, the hidden sea shore paths that will lead the hiker from one grand vista to another and make friends with the locals.  How splendid is it? Let me put it this way, my original intention was to spend 3 days and ten days later I was regretfully forcing myself to move on.  

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

The fact is this fishing port is also home to the largest oyster beds found in all of France.  Romans on their way to conquer Britain found this place congenial to their eating pleasure, as well these mollusks are said to have been particularly appreciated by no less a royal palate as that of the Sun King, Louis XIV and Napoleon as well.  History doesn’t record whether Josephine benefitted from the well-known aphrodisiac effects of the delectable mollusk.  Oh, and is this why the British Navy back in the late 18th Century attacked this town? Was it pay back? Or a desire to get in on a good thing too.  We’ll never know I suppose.

Local ‘farmers’ own  framed sections of the seabed and tend several metres of wire cages where they grow  and ‘harvest’ their succulent mollusks.

Three rivers ferry abundant nutrients to the Bay Saint Michel hence providing an abundance of food for the nourishment of delectable oysters.

Just harvested an empty bed awaits tiny new arrivals to start the growing cycle all over again – lucky us.

Fun and somewhat odd to spot a ‘farmer’ sorting his ‘harvest’ on the way to the local oyster processing plant.

Just off a few metres from the port quay, several oyster stalls run by talkative, better informed women than the local tourist office.  Here for about 6 dollars, (depending on the current exchange rate) the Cancalaise will deftly shuck a dozen couldn’t be fresher oysters garnished with a sliced lemon; if you are really clever, you come armed with a crisp baguette, a chilled bottle of wine, take a seat anywhere nearby on a rock or bench and enjoy indulging your taste buds.

P1060186

The town looks westward across the Bay Saint Michel and on a clear day the abbey can be seen as a small triangular island jutting out of the wide sea.  Yes, that’s what I’m pointing at, all excited that I was to suddenly discover it was there for me to admire.

Indeed, there it was, a little over 30 minutes drive around the picturesque bay.  It was also visible at night as  it was illuminated but not enough for me to capture it with my camera.  Still, it was always something for me to look for before saying goodnight to yet another splendid day.

A word of advice – you’ll most likely be driving to Cancale as there’s no train service and only sparse bus service from St. Malo.  As you approach the town do not take the Centre Ville road, but look for a sign indicating Port de Cancale.  Take it and don’t panic as it soon becomes a narrow, tortuous road and you start thinking you made a mistake.  Keep going and soon enough you’ll come across the spectacular vista as below.  You’ll end up where you want to be, right on the beach road where you’ll find the best accommodations.  Park the car in one of the free parking lots and spend some time checking out lodgings and if you’re not planning to stay overnight (c’est dommage) you’ll discover oyster bars or better still the stalls and fine seafood eating.

Cancale is a two-tiered town built along the seashore and above on a plateau.

Low tide strands pleasure and fishing boats;  Mt. St. Michel Bay is reputed for its fast incoming tides, local lore says it will overtake a galloping horse.

 Hotels facing the pier feature fine seafood restaurants below with a great seascape to gaze upon.

In my travels I naturally gravitate towards working seaports while avoiding touristy, overcrowded seaside destinations.  Cancale is a great combinations of leisure, hiking, photography and mingling with real folks daily working the sea and the oyster beds.

Mending  his crab net – this Cancalais is one of the traditional fishermen working on the briny.

These crabs don’t resemble the handsome Dungeness of British Columbia – ugly but nonetheless tasty.

The pier, fishing boats and a manor on top of the hill featuring a splendid pine tree.  A steep climb will get you up there where you’ll discover the best view of the area possible.  As well a monument to remember the Cancalais who lost their lives at sea.

This magnificent pine lords it over the entire lower town.

Over a century old, the ancient sentinel has withstood every  wild windstorms the sea has tossed at it – it remains stoic, regal and immovable.

Seen afar from the sea, a monument to remember and honour native sons lost at sea.
 A quiet street in upper town, closed off at the top by its fine church.
The  town is justly proud of its fine church – one of the more original fountains to be seen anywhere.
Below the Port de la Houle at low tide.  I’m resting (had a steep climb to get here) before undertaking several hours of  hike along the craggy upper path to Point du Groin.  An excellent day was in store, magnificent seascapes, wild flowers, balmy day in May, my face caressed by the wind I couldn’t have been happier in Eden.
Miles of scented seaside path along the escarpment framing Bay de Saint Michel; I wore a daylong smile nothing would have erased.
The colour of the sea a sure sign the lucky two would catch their quota; how I envied my fellow anglers.
And him too!
A pleasant sailing excursion was obviously the order of the day.
Pointe du Droin, the final destination before regretfully turning back.  The installation  provides vital weather and radar information to seagoing fishing boats.

Wild flowers find shelter underneath a protecting rock.
Near Cancale a short drive will take you to several long sandy beaches; bring a picnic basket, a good book and fill your lungs with iodine well-being.
Of course a faint heart found the water still too cold for her little toes.
P1030584
Whereas an enthusiastic fellow used to Canadian waters found it all rather exhilarating although admittedly  a tad on the cool side.  
P1030594
As often happens I was fortunate, hugely lucky to find this B&B (Gout-zi) right on the beach front.  The two windows provided a prime look-out on the goings on below and  across.  If I mentioned what I paid for it, in late May, it would be near unbelievable, at least from the perspective of a traveler who might have been whacked hard for accommodations anywhere across British Columbia.  Those of you who might think it expensive to venture across to Europe, don’t be needlessly daunted, in actual fact it’s much cheaper if you’re just a bit astute and are willing to do some solid research before hand.  With so many web sites available it’s plain silly not to be well-prepared. and I do mean it.  Just so anyone doesn’t think I don’t appreciate B.C. far from it, almost every corner of this vast province offers spectacular natural scenery, varied flora and fauna and often benign weather.  The thing is why do the folks here  think it good business to overcharge for all too often  mundane accommodations and for the government to dip into the traveler’s pockets with tax plus more taxes? It makes absolutely no sense and thus the tourist industry here is nowhere near as active as it might be otherwise with some intelligent business practices and an enlightened Ministry of Tourism.  I could write a novel on this subject so be grateful I stop right here and now.

A partial front view and …

from the rear window.
Perhaps one photo of me too many but it’s the last one, promise.  Just thought it appropriate to indicate how happy I was, at all times, during my entire stay.  Would I return? I can’t wait and maybe we’ll bump into each other, just stay away from my ‘Gout’zi‘ and we’ll get along just fine.  Oh, I’m not being selfish, there are plenty of superb other B&Bs or hotels, up to you to discover your own tiny plot of Shangri-la.

PARIS BY NIGHT

“Never go on  trips with someone you don’t love.”                                                      Ernest Hemingway – ‘A Moveable Feast’

Paris by night is dazzling as a courtesan without being garish; enchanting as a demure debutante without ever becoming trite.  For young and old it’s a feast for the eyes, a boost to a weary spirit and gentle massage of the senses.  No need to identify the iconic images of the City of Lights, enjoy.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

It’s worth mentioning each night, every hour on the hour there’s a zippy five minute laser show that elicits oohs and aahs from the shadows where you didn’t even suspect anyone was there waiting for the show to start.

Walk under and look up, only in this manner can you get a real idea of just how big and high the Eiffel Tower is; no wonder it dominates the skyline from almost any angle.  

Late into the night ‘bateau mouche‘ ferry enchanted tourists along the world’s most romantic river – the Seine of song and poems.

For my money nothing beats the Arc de Triumph at night and then a stroll down the Champs Elysées to check out the other tourists who are checking you out – harmless fun.

Notre Dame’s superb stained glass windows, especially moving at night when the muted whispers of visitors lend a serene, spiritual tone to the house of God.

Wandering at night somewhere not far from Parc Monceau, I was surprised to see an onion-domed church that serves Eastern rite parishioners.  I’ve got to find the name.

Style, elegance and class!

A show room on the Champs Elysées – the old boy displayed a je ne sais quoi that might be envied today.

Even a casual car fancier might fall for this one; fast and fancy, like a showgirl from the Moulin Rouge.

One last glance before heading to the hotel; after a long, pleasant stroll through the City of Lights sleep will come easy tonight.

Paris – Ville Lumière Part 1

Travel cognoscenti, well-heeled jet-setters and youthful backpackers, illustrious artists and writers have heaped  praise on  Paris as the finest walking city worldwide par excellence and I’m in total agreement.  During my visits I generally eschew the speedy métro or convenient surface bus service although there are a few bus routes that provide splendid tours of the city for the price of an ordinary fare – I’ll let you in on a few as I go along.  For now, let me assure one and all nothing beats a good pair of walking shoes, a street map in the hip pocket – start bright and early so you can dawdle over your café au lait and croissant at one of the ubiquitous corner bistros and mull over your day’s itinerary.  With a powerful caffeine jolt propelling you start hiking being sure to keep your keen eyes on a swivel, eagle-eyes checking left and right, up and even down so you miss nothing of the wonderful sights of Paris.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

P1020229

It’s important to understand the physical lay-out of the great avenues you’ll surely walk along (Champs Elysées, for one); Baron Haussmann designed the city central avenues to radiate from a central ‘place’ like the spokes on a bicycle wheel.  No matter how often I try to remind myself, avenues, even the major ones, do not run parallel to each other but gradually diverge until after several blocks you’re no longer where you may have imagined to be.  Don’t worry, get the map out and adjust to head in the direction you wished for in the first place; in the meantime nothing will have been lost as I’m sure you’ll discover numbers of fascinating nooks of the city about which you had no knowledge.   Have your camera ready at all times – there’s a photo op at every corner.

P1020223

P1020147

Spanning 2000 years of an often turbulent and illustrious history, Paris is an amazing amalgam of the old and new and if you are a neophyte visitor you’ll surely head for the sparkling, high tone boulevards a courtesy of Napoleon’s desire to beautify his capital city and Haussmann’s urban planning genius.  You’ll come across parks, large and small, choose a comfortable bench and catch the sight of hurried Parisians and other travelers such as you; it will surprise and simultaneously charm you far beyond what you had dreamed of when you closed your eyes and planned this very moment.

For my part it’s a fundamental precept that wherever I travel I seek accommodations centrally located with a view from the window (when possible), comfortable certainly and of course affordable.  It’s one reason I never (really never) book a hotel ahead but rather chance on finding what I need first seeing with my own eyes.  Admittedly it is at times stressful but in the final analysis always worth the sometimes hard work.  On my latest jaunt to Paris I was extremely fortunate.  Serendipitously, I discovered cheery accomodations in a wonderful location one street from the Marché Poncelet.  The leafy view from inside the room demonstrates what I mean by cheery.  

P1050606

At the front desk, Julien, a fine fellow whose cheerful demeanor and tips concerning things to do and see in the neighborhood of the Hôtel Flaubert was proof Parisians are friendly notwithstanding occasional bad-mouthing by unsophisticated visitors who are surprised they’re not impressing anyone because they’re paying for the privilege to gape at the treasures in plain sight everywhere int the City of Lights.  

p1050677

From my room window I’m checking for signs the sun is about to come out again.  However, I hasten to add there’s absolutely no reason not to go wandering about the streets of Paris, rain or shine, it’s always a magnificent outing worth any small weather related discomfort.

P1020726_2

There are historic and interestingly designed places (squares) within a few minutes walk of each other, featuring grandiose statues of famed figures (some are obscure to most foreigners, but it’s fun to make a note of the name and Google it later) reminding passersby they once contributed to the city and country.  The not-to-be-missed Place de la Concorde, Place Vendome, Place de l’Opéra, Place Pigale, of course you want to go there to snap a good shot of the Moulin Rouge, but save your money, it’s a tarted up old whore not worth the cheap Champagne at a premium price.  From there start climbing the  steep, winding streets of Montmartre where a succession of great and unknown artists lived their dreams of fame, and of course take a long gander upon the city from the imposing viewpoint on the steps below the iconic Basilique du Sacré Coeur.

P1020417

P1020376

P1020221

Rather than endlessly going on rapturously, let me lay out for you some of my favourite sites, the famed and the less so but each one in my opinion worthy of a lingering look.
P1020456
P1050721
When I downloaded this photo I realized it was the first time I’d actually visualized this particular angle of three iconic views of Paris.

Place de la Concorde fountain and of course the ever-present Tour Eiffel keeping a sharp eye on all of Paris.  A couple of centuries ago the ‘place’ was hardly harmonious as thousands including Danton, Robespierre and not a few noble heads lost their heads, literally, to the Révolution‘s blood thirst. 

 One of the unusual acts  you’ll come across all over the city: this one set up ‘shop’ steps from the Pompidou Centre.  I admit I was just as happy as the giddy gamins who were cheering him on urging bigger and bigger bubbles.  

So delightful especially for children of all ages, me included.  I wonder it there’s a secret formula? It may be fun to try it out for yourself, what do you think? Hmm… warm water, dishwashing soap and two sticks – nothing to it, right?

The arch called Le Carousel  is pictured with the Louvres to your back and looking down (or up) the Champs Elysées.  Framed in the far distances the iconic Arc de Triomphe.  

In front of the most visited site in Paris, Le Centre Pompidou (pour les Arts) that incidentally is not close to being my favourite, however, there’s always lots of action in the wide plaza, with musicians, acrobats, mimes, buskers of all types showing off their skills for a multitude of tourists.  Some of the acts are really first class and worth spending the time to watch, applaud and drop a few coins in appreciation.

P1020540

P1020536

Considered as one of the world’s very finest art gallery, the Louvres seen from the main concourse and central fountain.

P1020463

The glass pyramid located amongst classical architecture set off passionate debate when it first came into existence.  Today the functional aspects (main entrance and ticket counters) cleverly camouflaged as an artistic creation is praised by one and all.  I for one had been dubious until I actually saw it with my own eyes – bravo!

P1020468

P1050848

A free preview of what you can discover inside, for the price of a ticket.  On the other hand, if you’re in a hurry and just want to take a look from the outside, there are several viewpoints that are meant for you to enjoy, perhaps entice you to buy that ticket after all.

There’s never enough time in one visit to see it all with the  proper respect for the masterpieces and unique artistry on display.  Choose a few theme rooms, relax on a bench and take your time to enjoy.  Come back another time, the Mona Lisa will always be there to greet you.

Visiting Paris from a southern provincial town, this band put on a spirited show with fine style and good toe-tapping offerings.  The young fellow on the small snare drum who beat the beat with gusto was a fun front-man.

Le Moulin Rouge needs no introduction.  Look but don’t bother getting clipped inside.  A good starting point to the Sacré Coeur.

There seems to be yet another antique children’s carousel all over the city; laughter of happy children and organ music always evokes sweet memories.

This lovely mademoiselle played a fine rendition of the theme from Emilie, the movie that enchanted the world some years ago.

Energetically cranking the small mechanical organ, this fine songstress was a throw-back to the early street chanteuse of Paris, Edit Piaf being the best known, of course.  Her voice was evocative of Patachou and Juliette Gréco, singers known  and loved for their Parisian roots.

This Parisian icon is even more exciting at night.

A pretty tourist exclaimed, “Ah, worse than Tokyo traffic.  Crazy!”  She took video to show back home they don’t have it as bad as the Parisian ‘Kamikaze drivers!”

Seen from above the traffic is simply too ridiculous to contemplate challenging, and yet, after my first go around (yep, I couldn’t get off at my avenue) I managed to navigate my way out.  Since then each trip I make it a must to go around at least once to sharpen me up for the frantic Parisian traffic.  Oh, one secret of not getting stuck – NEVER stop, no matter what keep on going even when you’re sure the other driver will hit you or vice-versa.  Magically the slow dance winds its way around without a pause and everyone finds their way out.  Admittedly once I did see a minor fender bender but it was of no account as both drivers waved to each other and kept on their merry way.  I found it splendidly civilized behaviour.

A night view of the Champs Elysées.

La Madeleine – fine classical architecture and splendid interior.

It’s on every woman’s shopping agenda, especially for cosmetics. Gallery Lafayette and adjacent Printemps are a shopper’s mecca, even men can find something to like about shopping.

Have to have one of the Tour Eiffel but many more to come in Paris City of Lights Number 2

Finally a view of the Sacré Coeur from the viewpoint provided by le magazin Printemps.  It’s one of the great tourist bargains of Paris, the open air café on the top floor provides a splendid panoramic view of the city.  More to come next post, hope you enjoyed a small sampling of what you’ll discover for yourself some day soon, I hope.  Aurevoir mes amis.

Mt. St. Michel – Normandie, France

“The archangel Michael took supreme command. He reassured their minds by his serenity. His countenance, wherein his soul was visible, expressed contempt for danger.”

Anatole France – The Revolt of the Angels’. 

Approaching one of the world’s finest UNESCO site, Mont Saint Michel in Normandie, France.   Your very first view of the splendid abbey looming in the distance will dazzle your eyes and leave an indelible mark on your heart.   No matter how many times I journey to this splendid example of man’s genius for  monumental architecture, I am humbled.  In truth I simply can’t imagine any such sublime creation is now possible, neither the time, the funds, the medieval builder’s knowledge but especially the faith of generations of monks in another better world is now lost in the dim past.  Yet, the stones of Mont Saint Michel remain as witness to mankind’s great achievements.  Where hundreds of monks kept the faith, sadly today but a handful keep vigil and pray to the Archangel for protection and better days ahead.  

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

At low tide, fat, contented sheep feed on salt marsh grasses resulting in tasty meats appreciated in fine restaurants through France.

Nearing closer for a better angle the sheep simply didn’t care about  my presence simply shuffling off a tad and peacefully getting back to munching on their favourite grasses.

My traveling companion was simply overwhelmed and I caught her eyes glistening with tears – her explanation was she’d never seen anything as inspiringly beautiful.   She expressed my sentiments perfectly. 

P1030001

Twice a day, at high tide Mt. St. Michel becomes an island and at low tide it’s surrounded by a large expanse of shallow sands.  Many a foolish tourist has come to grief when unawares of the incoming tide, faster than a galloping horse it’s said.  Now guided tours allow for long walks in safety, avoiding the infamous quicksands.

Almost neap tide and a fine sunset – now to explore hidden nooks and crannies and imagine echoes of a millenary past replete with an  epic history

This magnificent refectory hall sounds hollow; only a very few monks remain where once hundreds worked and prayed.

The splendid main transept; the photo below the principal altar.

Pilgrims, visitors of all faiths light votive candles – seeking the protection of the mighty heavenly warrior is not to be derided, you never know when you’ll need help warding off the dragon of ill fortune, Satan’s ally.  Amen!

Aptly named ‘La Merveille’ this architectural jewel provided resident monks with a serene venue for their daily spiritual communion with God.

P1030179

P1030171

The main street leading up to the abbey.  Do yourself a favour and visit anytime other than summer months when hordes of tourists murder the ambiance.

Old stones hundreds of years in the aging (like vintage wine) under the ever vigilant protection of Saint Michel.

Indulge your palate with a tasty, cloud-light local omelet.  This particular establishment has been around for a long time and is generally credited with being the original creator of the egg and butter dish.   The secret is in the thorough blending of the ingredients and the right technique as happily demonstrated by the friendly fellow.  

 

P1030012

 

P1060230

It is said the proof is in the eating and my friend agreed this omelet was everything she’s hoped for and some since she’d read about it in a Japanese travel article.  I’ll admit I stuck to a copious plate of mussels and fries and no regrets!

P1060322

High above the abbey and town, the archangel Saint Michel protects all.

Wander about at night, inhale the sea air and be mesmerized by the mysterious ambience,  bend an ear and catch the echos of times past wafting in on the waves, from Viking raiders to hooded monks chanting vespers, to you standing there thrilled to realize you are there, now.

P1030080

One more photo to capture and assign to memory this mystic, almost surreal vista.  If you have the chance to walk the jetty after sunset, smell the sea air, listen to the wind, you’ll be possessed forever.  No matter how often I’ve been there it never fails to send shivers scurrying down my spine and a conviction that no matter what, all’s well  on this good earth when such splendor created by the genius and faith of man still survives to enchant succeeding generations of travellers.