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Parisian Art :-)
My last two days in Paris were arty ones. The benefit of being by myself for this leg meant I spent a luxuriously long time in the Musee D'Orsay and the Centre Pompidou. And while I could go on forever about the gorgeous art, I will try to keep it to a minimum :-) The first day, I visited the Musee D'Orsay, a great museum dedicated to the period around the impressionists, so there were heaps of beautiful Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Gaugain, Degas, etc for me to goggle at. Its a great museum, in a converted railway station. I got all excited and bought a bought a beautiful jigsaw puzzle of one of the beautiful Renoir paintings, before realising there was no way it was going to fit in my pack. A trip to the post office for my first package home was in order!
That afternoon, I went up the Eiffel Tower to take in the view. It was incredibly windy that day in Paris, so I was a little worried, but it was beautiful up the top, I went at 6pm, and the haze had lifted so you could see for miles, with cool long shadows.
That night, I went out for dinner with my roommates, a great Aussie couple called Kim and Kane who were about to start the Busabout route. We decided to have a picnic, so after a couple of cheeses, salami, and wine from the supermarket (4 euro a bottle! And it was nice!) and a loaf from the bakery, and we headed up the hill to Sacre Coeur, and constructed a fantastic dinner while watching the sunset over Paris, accompanied by an awesome busker.

The next day I did the Centre Pompidou, which is a huge building, distinctive in that the architect built it with all the internal pipes, escalators, lifts, ducts and other construction elements on the outside, leaving the inside clear. It was brilliant. As well as a complete collection of all the modern masters, starting from Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, through to Pop Art.... with art from all the biggies like Picasso, Jean Arp, Miro, Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock.... I can't remember if I've said this before, but it felt like visiting old friends, I knew the paintings and the artists so well from so many art history lessons! They also had a huge section of recent modern paintings too, which was cool. A very satisfying day.... and I didn't have to feel guilty about boring anyone to tears by spending so long in the gallery :)
That evening, I talked Kim and Kane into coming with me to a wee restaurant I'd passed in Montmatre... that served frogs legs! (How could I not try them in Paris!). It was a great experience, the restaurant was full of Parisians, the waitress spoke very little English so with the help of my Lonely Planet phrasebook (and especially the menu decoder!) we got through, and felt very proud of ourselves. In France you can get set menus, which are great value, so for a set price, usually pretty reasonable, you get a set choice of entrees, mains, and a dessert. We ended up with the most amazing french onion soup to start, chicken casserole type thing for main (don't know what it was in French sorry) and great chocolate mousse for dessert, YUM!!
And the frogs legs? Very interesting! The consistency of chicken, with a gamey seafood flavour. And very fiddly!

The beautiful main atrium of the Musse D'Orsay, in a converted railway station

The extortionately overpriced restaurant in the Musee D'Orsay

Me on the balcony outside at the top of the Musee D'Orsay.

This really cool museum that had a garden growing on the outside of it, not just vines, but full on bushes and small trees.

Me up the Eiffel Tower!

The ascent...

Me and the aussie couple from my room, Kim and Kane, at Sacre Couer after our sunset picnic.

Sacre Couer looking beautiful at night.

Cool signage at the Centre Pompidou

Cool mural at the Centre Pompidou

Modern sculpture at the Centre Pompidou

The gallery from the far end (yes, that's a giant red rhino scuplture in the foreground)

Posted on 24 May 2007 by Anna
Pleasure Palace Versailles
Versailles was ENORMOUS. I was there for over 8 hours. The palace itself, domain of King Louis XIV, was opulent, decadent, and extravagant, all heavy gilt, rich fabrics and long galleries. On one hand I was marvelling at the effect and the richness; basically, what he hoped every visitor would do, but on the other hand it was horrific how much money had been spent when the country was so poor. It was a relief to get outside into the gardens; definitely a highlight for me. They too must have required an army of gardeners, as there seemed to be about 5 fountains (water and fountains symbolise richness and abundance in Provence, where there's no natural water reserve to supply the fountains), and hectares and hectares of perfectly manicured avenues of perfectly matching trees, sculptures, massive lakes, and perfect paths. It was awe-inspiring, especially as we don't really have an equivilant in New Zealand.
Marie Antoinette had her own palace at the other end of the park, a 20 minute walk from the main palace. (She had to marry Louis when she was 14, he 15, and it didn't really work out that perfectly...hence separate palaces.) Marie Antoinette had semi-rebelled in a way, in that she had had her palace built with light airy rooms, and gardens in a freer, more English rambling garden style, with twisty windy paths, overgrown wildflowers, mazes, an entire replica English village with mill and farm for her workers, a grotto, a dovecote and rambling brookes. I spent a wonderful couple of hours in the late afternoon exploring its beautiful little corners, realising what a sheltered idyllic lifestyle she must have had, and marvelling at it. Anyway, it was a really special place, and amazing that they've been able to keep it as a public monument.

The hall of mirrors at Versailles... which was being restored at the time, a pity.

Oppressive opulence... the bedchamber each queen had to publicly give birth in (to prove it was actually a legitimate heir)

The beautiful manicured gardens out the back of the palace.

My view while I ate lunch

Fountains! And a lake that looks really close optically, but takes 45 minutes to get to the end...

Marie Antoinette's pretty palace had a beautiful living room

I like beautiful quiet palatial rooms like this...

Terrible one of me, but a pretty part of the garden...

So many beautiful avenues like this... the garden designer was a maestro.

The lake and a fountain, dusk.

Versailles, dusk.

Posted on 23 May 2007 by Anna
Destination Paris - My First Two Days
Luckily, the hotel was expecting me early. Unluckily, I first had to work out where on earth I was, and how to get to my hotel, in the dozy haze I'd got off the bus in. Unable to speak french, I was fortunate enough to get two very helpful French ticket ladies, the first who gave me a tube map, and circled where I was and where I had to get off, and the second who, after I'd got to the right stop, not recognising the street name (bad sign! it just happened it was down a tiny cul-de-sac), google-mapped it and then printed off the map for me. Yay!
My district was Pigalle, which I'd heard bad stories about (yes, there are lurid sex shops around) but it's on the border of a lovely area called Montmatre, below Sacre Coeur, filled with art galleries and bohemian shops, and I never once felt unsafe by myself.
The hotel turned out to be great; nice, clean, light, no bunks, yay! I was in a 3 bed dorm which was perfect; I shared with an American guy, Paul, for 2 nights and a really cool Aussie couple, Kane and Kim, for 3 nights.

Day 1: Thursday
After that horrible morning start, I got onto the internet and finalised ALMOST ALL my accommodation and trains around France. I was allowed to check into my room about 10.30, and after dumping my bags and freshening up, felt a tonne better. This feeling grew when I finally ventured outside that afternoon to walk up to Sacre Couer. The weather was beautiful, Montmatre was a maze of pretty winding streets, the view from the top where I stopped to have my lunch (of an amazing patisserie bought quiche... jeesh, I'm going to be enormous by the end of this trip) was superb. I even got mistaken for a Parisian several times due to my new London jacket and handbag, purpose-bought to blend me in a bit more (and maybe a bit because they were pretty). Score! (An effect which of course is ruined as soon as I bring out my trusty map or camera). Finally I thought "Yay! I'm in Paris!!"

Day 2: Friday
Today I was up bright and early. I took a one day hop-on-hop-off bus and toured the Champs Elyssees, round the crazy roundabout at the Arc du Triomphe, down to the Eiffel Tower and around, up to the Dome Church where Napoleon's tomb is, across the Pont Alexander III bridge (gold-bedecked) past the Petit and Grand Palais, to the Place du Concorde. Across past the Madeleine Church and the Grande Opera, at which I changed route to the Montmatre circuit to go back to my hotel for a jacket, as it wasn't the warmest day, and I was starting to freeze on an open double-decker bus!
Hopping back on again, I continued the circuit down through the courtyard of the Louvre, along the river, across the Pont Neuf, past Notre Dame, across to the other side, and up towards the Musee D'Orsay. I decided at this point to hop off, having seen a decent chunk, and walked back down to the Ile de la Cite. I went first to St Chapelle, a church my parents had raved about after their trip, and wasn't disappointed... a passage opens out onto a tall chapel ablaze with colour... millions of pieces of coloured glass making up windows that stretched to the ceiling. Stunning. Then it was off to the Notre Dame, where I did a circuit inside, then climbed the 480 odd steps. After my heart attack, I took in the gorgeous views, the great gargoyles, the enormous bell, and then went back down. One thing that struck me about Paris was that for a city with so few tall skyscrapers, you can get a great view from quite a few monuments - I saw it all 3 times, from Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
Anyway, after Notre Dame, having consulted my very handy Monuments Opening Times sheet which Shelley had put together for me, I saw that the Louvre had a late night, so I walked straight up there and was able to take in a good chunk of the treasures (I did the entire Objects d'Art floor, and then all the art galleries) from 7pm till 9.45pm. It was great to be able to see the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory, and all the paintings like Raft of the Medusa, Leonardo's masterpieces, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and some of the sculpture collection... a pretty good effort for 2.75 hours, wholly due to the smaller crowds that late at night. I could get way up to the front and still have elbow room, brilliant. I also appreciated the fact that a lot of my favourite paintings, the Joe Blogs tourists weren't interested in, for example, while everyone's grouping around the Mona Lisa, on the opposite wall is a huge and awesome Veronese canvas. Which gets completely ignored!
Feeling invigorated after that much beautiful art, I then took a stroll up from the Louvre all the way to the Eiffel Tower, taking in Paris lit up at night. Suddenly, at 10pm, the Eiffel Tower burst into glittering glory, with a whole lot of bulbs silmultaneously flashing, giving a glittery effect from afar. It was so pretty, I was jumping up and down in glee, but a little sad I couldn't share the moment with anyone. Except maybe the tramp that was looking at me like I was mad... Just kidding Mum! I was perfectly safe and there were heaps of people around :-)
Finally I got to the base of the Eiffel Tower, at 10.45pm.... only 15 minutes before it closed, so too late to go up which was a bumma (it took so long to get there because I kept stopping to take photos along the way!). It had also started to pour with rain, and my stomach also realised it hadn't been fed for 7 hours and decided to cave. Luckily, through the haze, a shining light... a crepe stall by the Eiffel Tower. So at 11pm, I was to be found buying citron crepes (I had to get two... the first one I gobbled down too fast) in the rain and scoffing them there and then in a most unglamourous fashion. They cost an exorbitant ¬3.50 each, so I spent NZ$14 for 2 crepes. But they were piping hot. Sticky sweet. Very French. Melty goodness. Bliss :-)

View from my hotel room in Paris onto the cute cul-de-sac outside

Me at Sacre Coeur

Me up the top of Sacre Coeur. A rogue strand of my hair (it was really windy) is pointing towards the Eiffel Tower :-)

A square in my local area of Montmatre with artists all doing portraits for tourists... a very cool vibe.

A cool little building typical of Montmatre, this was a funky little cafe

Eiffel Tower... the weather was a little grumpy.

The cool Egyptian obelisk in the Place de La Concorde... the sun was hitting the gold at the top, and with the ominous clouds behind, it looked really dramatic.

Me walking down the Champs Elysees through the Jardin de Tuileries... the weather had started to fine up.

Inside St Chapelle... an explosion of colour.

The beautiful St Chapelle

Inside Notre Dame looking out

Behind the main altar, I loved how the light was hitting a beautiful statue

Up Notre Dame... Parisian spires

Me in front of Sacre Couer... it was cold again.

The beautiful art nouveau metro station entrances

I wasn't allowed to take a lot of photos in the Louvre, and also sometimes I just forgot, because I was too busy just staring at it, or a picture just doesn't equate to a decent postcard or seeing it for real. However there was this very cool sculpture, placed alongside all the classic sculptures in one of the galleries, that I really liked...

Another cool piece I liked... what was left of a great Roman artifact, which now had a definite Phantom-of-the-Opera feel...

The Louvre at night... spectacular!

The Pont Alexander III Bridge lit up at night... they really go hard out with their night lighting.

And finally... the Eiffel Tower, at night, in the rain, up close and personal.

Posted on 22 May 2007 by Anna

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