02
Jan

Happy New Year! (and reflections of a not so wintery holiday)

By: muttler
happy new year!

happy new year!

 

December 31st is usually everyone getting ready for a big night. Us, we were getting ready to head to the airport. I had mentioned that we felt our decision to head home before New Years Eve felt pretty vindicated. We chose the flights almost exclusively based on price (saving $800 each by leaving a couple of days early? Sounds OK to us!), but neither of us really felt the desire to be crushed on the streets of Amsterdam for New Years. I had actually already experienced it 15 years ago, and while it was not terrible, it was not one of my fonder memories of my visits to Europe.

So mid morning it was just on to the bus and off to the airport.

Not much else to report really. An uneventful 24 hours of travel home, just as we like it… catching up on movies (everything from Love & Mercy to Trainwreck to The Assassin to Black Mass), TV (finally finished Mr Robot!), reading (Carrie Brownstein and Kim Gordon autobiogs), and podcasts.

Sadly the New Years celebration was a total non-event. Not that I was expecting or wanting much (we were avoiding it after all), but I thought we may have had something of note happen on the plane to celebrate, but nope. A subtle message on my screen was all that I got when we were officially at New Years. I didn’t expect heaps, but I thought it was pretty weak to not even have an announcement from the captain or the offer of a drink. Disappointing as Cathay Pacific are usually pretty good.

And that’s it!

Overall it was a great holiday that I think we planned really well. Having a full week each in just 3 places was a great thing to do… less running around, a bit cruisier, a chance to explore lots in the city and less travelling in general. In hindsight we probably could have done with one more day in Berlin, probably taking the day off Amsterdam. But it was about right.

Taking the train was totally the right choice too. Our experience flying out of Amsterdam was testament to that. Not that we had any troubles, but by the time you get your way to the airport (an hour to get to the bus, wait for a bus, and get to the airport), be early enough to check in (they still say 3hrs before), go through all the security etc, and suddenly our casual wander to the train station in Berlin, step on to a train, and have a relaxed train ride was the right call. When you think that the 6hr train ride from Berlin to Amsterdam might be too long, all you need to do is take 1 hour to get to the airport + 2 hours waiting at the airport + 1 hour in the air + 1 hour to get into the destination city, and you already have almost all that time back. I would totally do it this way in the future.

Paris was one place that people were questioning our decision to still visit after the horrible events just 6 weeks ago. But there was never any doubt we would go. The whole time we were there we felt as safe as usual as we thought would be the case. What we probably weren’t really prepared for was how much security would be ramped up though. It was at all the usual tourist spots, however seemed a bit more thorough… it was essentially airport conditions at each museum and tourist destination. What we didn’t expect was that even going into shopping centres and supermarkets we would undergo security checks… looking in bags and getting us to open up jackets. We got used to it in the end, but when we got to Berlin and things were relaxed again, it really stood out to us how much things had sadly changed in Paris. Sad that for everyday folk things had changed so dramatically.

The other thing to mention might be the weather. We both packed to be in below zero and it proved totally unnecessary. It SHOULD have been below zero, especially in Berlin. But it seemed they were going through a warm dry spell, as we had continued 8-12 degrees, little rain, and sadly no snow. Even talking to locals, Berlin SHOULD have been covered in snow. I was hoping for a white lead up to Christmas, but alas it wasn’t to be. Not complaining though, as we were very lucky with pretty great weather all round.

Hope I didn’t bore you too much with my ramblings! Look forward to seeing y’all in 2016 🙂

16
Dec

176 km/h

By: muttler
speeding through Germany

speeding through Germany

 

Hi everyone!

A flurry of posts today. How come? Well, we are on a fast train, travelling from Paris to Berlin. Thanks to a first class train ticket (that was only about 10 euro more than the 2nd class thanks to early booking), we have lots of leg room and free wi-fi!

This means I can catch up on some blog entries, email, and whatnot. Doing everything I can from reading Star Wars reviews that have just come out 🙂

We got out of France quite quickly, went through Belgium (even stopping in Brussels briefly), and then into Germany. A quick stop and change of trains at Cologne, and it was off to our next destination.

Next posts from Berlin. Will try and keep them up in a somewhat timely manner!

16
Dec

Au Revoir Paris

By: muttler
au revoir

au revoir

 

Sadly this was our last day in Paris. We had filled a week and could easily fill another, but it was time to move on.

For our last day we filled in the last few things we wanted to visit. First up was a trip to another museum, this time the privately owned Musée Jacquemart-André. This was a private house and collection put together by Édouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart in the 1800’s. Kate likened it to the Frick in New York (one she loves but I’m not familiar with) so was happy to visit.

We were starving though so it was time for an early lunch in the attached tea rooms. Goats cheese and tomato quiche… delicious!

 

fancy!

fancy!

 

It was then into the museum proper and it was quite nice to wander through a museum of a different nature. It was quite modest in size, but fascinating to be in (what was) a personal home and see how they would have lived back then and casually surrounded by artistic masterworks. To be in a house with such elaborate staircases and Bottecelli’s hanging casually!

 

the man himself, by the woman herself

the man himself, by the woman herself

 

Nelie was quite the artist herself and it was interesting to see some of her works casually hanging with the rest of the collection, including this bust of her husband. She must have been a supreme talent, both artistically and as an art collector and historian.

 

more boticelli

more botticelli

 

We spent an hour or so just wandering about. While not massive it was well worth the visit.

Next it was a wander back to Opera after our previous shopping trip. This time it was to pop inside and check out the opulence within.

 

back to the opera

back to the opera

 

Designed and built by Charles Garnier in the late 1800’s, the Palais Garnier is one of the primary opera houses in the city, and certainly the one people flock to to see 1800’s extravagance.

 

no expense spared

no expense spared

 

 

harry potter stairways

harry potter stairways

 

The self guided tour led us through the main parts of the opera house. 7 types of marble? Check. Elaborate staircases? Check. Gold leaf? Check. They certainly spared no expense!

 

not home

not home

 

In our wandering we came across booth #5, better known as home to the Phantom of the Opera. The door was locked so alas was not sure if he was still haunting the theatre.

Inside the main theatre, there was much going on. It would go dark, then lighten up, then the stage would glow different colours. Seemed production tests were happening, so we picked our times to get a glimpse of the inside of the theatre. It was certainly in tune with the splendour of the outside rooms.

 

contemporary but fitting

contemporary but fitting

 

On the roof was a mural by Marc Chagall. I found this intriguing that an 19th century theatre would have a roof by Chagall, but the audio guide explained. The original roof was painted on a removeable frame in the 1960’s to cover the original. Fascinating! I wonder if they will feel compelled to reveal the original again or get a contemporary artist in another few decades?

 

the gold was blinding

the gold was blinding

 

We made our way back through the other rooms, being blinded by the constant gold and made our way out into the Parisian afternoon.

 

fantastique! (part one)

fantastique! (part one)

 

We were pretty much done with our must dos, but I added a late visit to our schedule. At the Petit Palace was a temporary exhibition that seemed intriguing. Called Fantastique it combined two separate but thematically related exhibitions. The first was my most intriguing, a collection of over 200 woodcut prints from 1800’s Japan, particularly those by artist Kuniyoshi.

 

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This was incredible. The vibrant woodcuts were full of such iconic Japanese imagery. Every Japanese tattoo was undoubtedly influenced by the works on the wall and to see so many in the one location was amazing. I had only seen some here and there in other museums at home and overseas.

 

fantastique! (part two)

fantastique! (part two)

 

The second half was another set of prints, but this time eerie black and white prints by such masters as Goya and Durer. These were a different type of fantastique… all about the creepy and gothic rather than the Japanese take on things.

 

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This was quite cool too… the detail in some of the prints was amazing. And who knew Victor Hugo was also a print artist? Not me!

There was almost too much work in the collection to take it all in. Plus we were at the end of our day (and week) and reaching our plimsoll line with regard to museum visits. So with that we called it and hit the streets…

 

umbrellas out!

umbrellas out!

… and into the driving rain! We were greeted with rain on our first day, but after that had cloud, but no rain. But Paris decided to leave us with a parting rainy gift. We had been so lucky with the weather that we didn’t mind. We decided to try and get a last Parisian selfie before heading to the train station and back to our hotel.

 

 

farewell

farewell

 

So with that, Paris was done. We both loved Paris before and both still love it. The city seemed to be doing well given recent events. I can’t say I had really been through so many security checks (even wandering into supermarkets), but we got used to it by the end. Everyone was lovely, the food was delicious, and Paris was as beautiful as ever. No doubt we will see you again in the not too distant future Paris.

16
Dec

Joyeaux AnniVersaire

By: muttler
one year!

one year!

 

The 14th of December! A big part of the reason for our travels. I think most of you know that a trip to Paris in December was in part about getting away but mostly it was for Kate and I to celebrate our first wedding anniversary somewhere special. And with Paris that’s what it was.

 

the top is there somewhere

the top is there somewhere

 

A slow start to the day and we headed for probably the main destination of our whole trip (no, Star Wars was not out yet!)… the Eiffel Tower. Really? you ask. The Eiffel Tower? Yep. We thought having lunch at a Michelin star restaurant up the Eiffel Tower was as good a way as any to celebrate.

 

hanging with my honey at le tour eiffel

hanging with my honey at le tour eiffel

 

It was a bit foggy so seeing the top of the tower was impossible. It added to the atmosphere though, and we could see our restaurant level,so we knew all would be cool. Being a little early we did the obligatory wander for selfies about the tower. Clearly something was up however, as much of the surrounding gardens were off limits, with dozens of police and military all about. Strange. We couldn’t quite work out what was happening, but there was definitely much less hustle and bustle than we were used to.

 

lunch time!

lunch time!

 

12:30pm arrived and it was lunch time! No waiting in queues for us… it was straight to our very own special elevator for a quick trip up to Le Jules Verne.

As soon as we entered it was a different world, that admittedly I am not too used to. Sure I eat at lots of good places, but not typically waited on like this. I guess you get what you pay for!

 

lunch dates

lunch dates

 

From that moment I have to say it was pretty mind blowing. Everything that had happened for the past year or so, and now being up here was just nuts. Kate was grinning from ear to ear the whole time and I was just trying to wrap my head around it all.

 

what to choose?!

what to choose?!

 

For lunch we had to choose from a number of options. Kate opted for the Parmenteir (soup with truffle), the venison, and the chocolate tower, while I opted for duck pate, veal, and quince & grapefruit vacherin. Decisions decisions!

Of course there was also champagne aperitifs and wine to follow. We were making the most of it.

 

my pate

my pate

 

mmm... soup

mmm… soup

 

veal... yum!

veal… yum!

 

For the next 3 hours time just flew by. The combination of being up the Eiffel Tower, being waited on so expertly, the food, and the occasion meant that it just went by so quickly. Both of us were reluctant for it to end!

 

grapefruity goodness

grapefruity goodness

 

these small truffles were AMAZING!

these small truffles were AMAZING!

 

As our desserts came out we had a little more celebrating, with the staff wishing us a happy anniversary in their own way. Mmm… macarons!

 

a glorious parisian day

a glorious parisian day

 

Alas, time had come to leave. The other advantage of our lunch locale was easy access to the main observation deck. While in the restaurant our view had cleared spectacularly and we were greeted with a glorious Parisian day. We couldn’t believe how fortunate we had been… some rain on our first day and that was it.

 

wandering the champs elysee

wandering the champs elysee

 

By this time it was 4pm and we kept moving. Kate was keen for a little shopping, so we did the wander from the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysee, toward Opera. Thankfully Kate wasn’t really interested in too much outside of some Parisian staples for herself and her sister (i.e. handbags and makeup) so we enjoyed the stroll more than anything.

 

the sausage could wait

the sausage could wait

 

There were a bunch of Christmas type markets along the Champs Elysee. One advertised XXL Sausage, but I was determined to wait until Berlin for my XXL sausage thank you very much!

 

a night at the opera

a night at the opera

 

We ended up at Opera and wandered into a nearby Uniqlo (my favourite after discovering them in Japan 5 years ago). Why Uniqlo? Well, the combination of winter and Star Wars meant I got myself a Star Wars down jacket! Yes! Now you know what to expect to see me in wearing in most photos from here on it 🙂

 

cheeky invader

cheeky invader

 

By this point we were about spent. Our amazing day was about done, outside of the metro trip back. On the walk back to the hotel I spied my 3rd invader. Sadly I had not seen anymore in my wandering… I must have just been oblivious with the other beauty of Paris surrounding me.

 

a final treat

a final treat

 

Back at the hotel, we finished off the day with our little takeaway treat from Le Jules Verne. Mmmm… what a sweet way to end the day.

15
Dec

Night Music

By: muttler
back in the louvre

back in the louvre

 

Today was our last museum pass day but we had a quiet day planned of just filling in some gaps. I wanted to drift through the Louvre some more, but outside of that, it was going to be pretty easy going.

We started with a visit to Saint Chapelle, a gothic chapel just near by Notre Dame. The number of visitors to this place is WAY less than its more famous neighbour (and I had never thought to pop in), but having talked about it with Kate the other day when we saw some of its stained glass at the Museum of Medieval Art, she thought we should pop in.

 

the entree...

the entree…

 

We entered into the small but ornate lower room. The roof was quite something and it was quite a quaint chapel. But then Kate led us upstairs to the main room.

 

the main course

the main course

 

Bam! I was not expecting that. It was an explosion of colour from the thousands of stained glass windows. I can’t say I had ever seen anything like it. It was just an overwhelming sensation being surrounded by it all. Kate thought my face said it all when we went in and was quite chuffed at my reaction.

I can’t believe I hadn’t been in before and that most tourists that come to Paris probably don’t get to see it. I guess we are just lucky to have so much time here to experience all the other things there are to see.

 

hard to believe all that colour is behind there

hard to believe all that colour is behind there

 

From the outside it was hard to believe that all that colour came from those seemingly lifeless windows!

 

hello!

hello!

 

From there, we decided to wander toward the Louvre. We wandered past a flower market that on Sundays seemed to double as a bird market as well. These little finches were quite cool although I think we would have trouble getting them through customs.

 

100 euro of cute

100 euro of cute

 

And this little guy was capturing everyone’s attention! Not sure I had ever seen a chinchilla before. Well, another first for the day.

 

inside the pyramid we go

inside the pyramid we go

 

In no time we were back in the happiness that is the Louvre. This visit was all about some aimless wandering and seeing some of the other favourites that we missed the other night. You can wander for days, so we mapped out a bit of a plan and visited the main areas that we wanted to revisit. More Italian masters, but mostly a lot more of the sculpture work and antiquities.

 

a big vase

a big vase

 

colossal in fact

colossal in fact

 

“That’s a big vase!” I remarked as we entered one room. Ha ha, said Kate, humouring me as usual. Until I looked at what the piece was actually titled. It was called “Vase Colossal”. Yep, I know my art alright 🙂

 

everyone takes selfies around here

everyone takes selfies around here

 

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I won’t bore you with all the details, but it was great to just wander through as always. This is the one place I feel as if I could come back to over and over and over again and never get tired of it.

 

score!

score!

 

During our time here I had noticed LOTS of people with Nintendo 3DS around their neck. Turns out they are the official guide for the Louvre. No iPods here! It was hilarious to see all these people with their two screens, calling up info. I was stoked to find that I could buy the actual game cartridge! Yes! Of course I grabbed it and will be running my own virtual tours on our return home (damn, I wish I did bring my 3DS with me).

But alas it was a bit after 4pm and we had one thing left on the plan. On Sunday evenings, small organ recitals were held in Eglise St-Eustache, home of the largest pipe organ in France. Why not finish the day with some dramatic pipe organ music?

 

strange place for a harring

strange place for a harring

 

Much less touristy than everywhere else we had been (discreet entrance, no security) we wandered in to the middle of a full choral concert in action. We grabbed a seat and soaked up the crazy acoustics inside the building. As it was finishing, we wandered about inside. It was much less ornate than where we had visited, and even had a distinct modern edge. While some Rubens proudly hung, so to did modern works, including a Keith Harring metal triptych. Weird! Last place I thought I would find his work! Intriguing to say the least and a welcome surprise.

 

a big organ

a big organ

 

We then settled in for some organ music. As expected, it was over the top and dramatic. Not sure it is my thing… some of it is pretty crazy. But the sheer musicianship to get that thing making noise is something else… all those keys and pedals.

With that we wandered into the brisk Parisian evening. A really delightful dinner in a nearby quintessential cafe was a great finish to the night.

14
Dec

The Happiest Place On Earth (part 2)

By: muttler
another christmas at disneyland

another christmas at disneyland

 

So I guess between Kate and I, Paris has two of the happiest places on earth. I have already gone on about the Louvre, and maybe you can  guess Kate’s. Yep, we were off to Disneyland.

Paris Disneyland is not necessarily up there with the best of the parks, but you know… it’s Christmas time, there are rides to be ridden, and who can be in museums and galleries for a week without a break? Not us! So we jumped on the train and headed out there.

 

back to see the mouse

back to see the mouse

 

There are two parks at the Disney site… Disneyland and Disney Studios. Kate had not been to the studio park before, while I had 10 years ago when to be honest it was really very mediocre. It was not much but studio tour train ride from what I remembered. I certainly didn’t spend any real time in the park. But it had been bolstered with a bunch of new rides, so we opted for a 2 park pass and started our day in the studio side.

 

ratatouille!

ratatouille!

 

While there was a bunch more added in the past decade, the Disney Studio park is still not huge. The main reason for heading in was for the Ratatouille ride. Yes! One of my favourite Pixar films had a dedicated ride! To be expected I guess given what country we were in. So we headed there to find an hour long wait. Boo. We got fast passes to go back in a few hours, but decided we couldn’t wait that long and headed into the single rider queue. We would be split up, but a 5 minute wait compared to 60? We would take that and ride together later!

So in less than 5 we were on the ride. Man, this one is fun! You jump in a small carriage and take the role of a rat running around in the kitchen. The ride is a mix of scuttling through huge sets and props, combined with huge 3D video projections to make you feel like you are zooming about as well. The mix worked really well and gave a great sense of frenetic movement and rushing about. The odd spray from a popping champagne cork was fun too.

 

this little mouse sure has built up an empire

this little mouse sure has built up an empire

 

We both loved it and were keen to jump on again later. In the area they were obviously capitalising on the Parisian nature of the movie. Remy even had his own up market restaurant. 40 euro for a meal at a Disney restaurant? As cool as it might be, no thanks (it did look cool inside though!).

To be honest there were not many other rides of interest in this side of the park. There were some Toy Story themed ones more for kids that we rode in California a couple of years ago, but we gave them a pass. We jumped on the studio tour type train ride that seemed pretty long in the tooth and not really showing anything new.

I was excited to jump on the Twilight Zone themed Tower of Terror ride (as always) as it is one of my favourite Disney park rides. Kate happily get a single fast pass for that and jump on myself. I have probably written about this one before, but it is essentially a haunted elevator with a mind of its own, shooting up and down. This is so much fun as much for the reactions of everyone in there with you.

 

anyone can cook apparently

anyone can cook apparently

 

keeping warm disney style

keeping warm disney style

 

saying farewell to Disney Studios

saying farewell to Disney Studios

 

Otherwise we didn’t really do too much else on the studio side. There weren’t any characters wandering, so we popped into the shops for some fun pics before jumping on the Ratatouille ride again and calling the park done.

Now it was time for Disneyland proper!

 

into the (more) real disneyland

into the (more) real disneyland

 

In many respects we had the luxury of being able to chill a bit. We had both been to this park before and having been in California only a couple of years ago, much was still fresh. So we targeted our favourite rides rather than try and fit everything in.

 

it's christmas jack!

it’s christmas jack!

 

First off was Haunted Mansion, or rather Phantom Manor as it is called here. Christmas Jack Skellington was hanging about out the front so we couldn’t resist saying hi and getting a picture. Our only character picture of the day! He seemed in good spirits in that big head of his.

 

phantom manor?!

phantom manor?!

 

still fun though!

still fun though!

 

The queue for Haunted Mansion was fast moving so in we went. Both of us dig this ride for whatever reason, and as we were moving about inside it dawned on us how different it is. There were many parts where we were looking at each other saying “I don’t remember this?!”. Made for a different experience, but not quite the one we were expecting! Still fun regardless.

 

creepy!

creepy!

 

toy story!

toy story!

 

the mice were there too

the mice were there too

 

Night descends fast here in Paris, and in no time at all it was time for the night time parade (5pm!). It was your typical Disneyland parade… all the characters ad floats wandering past. It is times like these Kate is always in her element, loving it all! And you know… the little kid inside you can’t help but get right into it.

 

night arrives fast here in Paris

night arrives fast here in Paris

 

The park is very different at night and it seemed quite dark to be honest, not the bright place we typically think of it. But that was OK… it meant the crowds started to thin out and let us get on to some of the other rides pretty quick. After the parade we hightailed it to Pirates of the Caribbean and were in in no time at all. Unlike California, there was a distinct lack of Captain Jack Sparrow (well the Johnny Depp version) around which was kind of odd.

We also jumped on Pinocchio as we went past too to continue with the old school ride theme.

 

watch out for zurg!

watch out for zurg!

 

But we needed to make sure we got a session in on the Buzz Lightyear Space Blasters ride, one of our favourites. I was current champ on this one, so we were looking forward to getting in the buggy and zooming through, taking shots at evil Zurg. This time I got ahead again with a score of over 300,000. My aim was true today.

 

closed... again?!

closed… again?!

 

The only other ride I was keen to jump on was Space Mountain, as it hold a place dear in my heart at Paris Disneyland. Many of you have heard this story, but the short of it is that when I was here with my sister Meagan about a decade ago, we got stuck on Space Mountain. Yep, we were stuck on a rollercoaster. Not upside down, but a severe upward-facing angle, for 10 minutes before we had to get rescued off by staff. Cool huh?! I wanted to relive the past and had gotten a fast pass for it. I went back at my allocated time… temporarily closed! I wonder if it was doing the same tricks. Part of me wished I had gotten on it again, but the sensible part said to quit while I was ahead.

 

farewell!

farewell!

 

By this time it was getting quite late, and with some shopping done, it was time to call it a day. In 12 hours or so we did the two parks pretty cruisey and had enjoyed another Disney Christmas. Who knows when we would be back at another Disneyland (I am guessing in the not too distant future).

13
Dec

The Happiest Place On Earth

By: muttler
trafficless arc

trafficless arc

 

So much for taking it a little easy on this trip. We thought having 8 days in Paris would mean relaxing a bit, but nope! Another morning and we are getting out and about pretty early.

 

the entrance to the depths

the entrance to the depths

 

The reason for the earlier start this morning was to head to somewhere neither of us had been… well below the city. Yep, we were heading in to the catacombs of Paris! This is a visit that is no reservation and limited to 200 at  a time, so we decided the earlier the better. But thankfully again it seemed the low tourist season was helping our cause as there were very few people about when we arrived.

 

watch out! polar bear!

watch out! polar bear!

 

There were some climate change protesters about though, the first real bunch we had seen in action. Not sure what lay underneath, but this big statue had now become a pretty cool polar bear. They were stopping traffic so they seemed to be getting their message across (whatever it may have been exactly).

 

hide and seek

hide and seek

 

At 10:15 we went in and began the descent into the depths of Paris. A hundred of so steps later we were at the bottom, in a series of long corridors to get us to the action. While starting as a normal set of tunnels under the city, their use became somewhat different following two different things: a series of collapses in the tunnels, and a series of overflowing cemeteries in Paris. So the solution? Reinforce the tunnels with the bones of millions of Parisians. Of course.

 

stop!

stop!

 

the first of millions

the first of millions

 

“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead!” greeted us as we entered the catacombs proper. As we entered we were greeted with the beginning of millions of bones and skulls. It really is a strange sensation if you have been to anything like this before… both very unsettling, but in reality I find you get desensitised quite quickly, and disconnect a bit from what you are looking at.

 

morbidly cute (i guess)

morbidly cute (i guess)

 

As we wandered the halls, you would find the odd decorative set of skulls. I wasn’t always sure if there was meaning to it, or if it was the art of a bored worker from back in the day.

 

so many cemetaries

so many cemeteries

 

almost never ending

almost never ending

 

All about were plaques detailing where the remains in that area had come from. There were many many different cemeteries represented throughout, so I can’t imagine the undertaking it must have been back in the day.

 

star wars!

star wars!

 

After an hour or so we reached the end and popped back up into the overcast Parisian day. With only a handful of days left on our museum pass, we though it best to visit a couple of the museums we still had remaining. So on to the metro it was (where I got another in my collection of Star Wars thumbs up pictures…. man I hope this movie isn’t terrible).

 

early modern art

early modern art

We popped out in the neighbourhood of the Centre Georges Pompidou, a very striking new looking building that houses the main modern art collection of Paris. It is interesting to see where the lines of modern art are drawn, as there is some cross over at the edges with the d’Orsay and l’Orangerie. But quite quickly the Pompidou moves into the 20th century.

 

amazing matisse papercuts

amazing matisse papercuts

 

yep, a signed urinal

yep, a signed urinal

 

I have a love/hate relationship with modern art. I am willing to check anything out, and some of the classic work from the start of the 20th century is amazing. However as get further to the end of the century I really do start to question some things. A signed urinal? OK I guess, at least that I know the story and understand the sentiment behind it.

 

rothko

rothko

 

yves klein

yves klein

 

Big swathes of colour? Hhhmmm. Some of that is a bit more difficult. I will say however that my appreciation of Rothko’s works did grow when you are confronted by a number of them in one space as is in the Tate Modern. Here, with just one on a wall, I find the power diminished. But fascinating still at the very least.

We moved through the gallery at a fair pace, gathering momentum the more recent the works got. In not too long we were at the end of the main collection and felt it was time to spend a little time outside now the weather was improving. So to the Champs Elysees it was, the Arc de Triomphe to be precise.

 

no traffic!

no traffic!

 

As we popped out of the metro station things were quite odd. There seemed to be less noise and goings on. The reason? No traffic! There were no cars on the Champs Elysees or around the crazy roundabout that surrounds the Arc. How strange! Usually you are greeted with hundreds of cars in all kinds of crazy directions getting around the Arc, but instead there was just police and street blockages and green/yellow paint all over the streets.

It wasn’t until afterward I read about what had happened. Climate change activists from Greenpeace had simultaneously abseiled down the Arc, while other rode around the roundabout on their bikes, dropping yellow paint and allowing the Paris traffic to do the rest. They apparently called it a “giant sun” around the Place de l’Etoile. What we caught at the end was simply closed streets and trucks washing the paint off the road. It did mean we got to see the Arc de Triomphe in a different way to normal.

 

IMG_1307

 

IMG_1310

 

IMG_1317

 

IMG_1320

 

It was still open for tourists so we decided to head up the spiral staircase to the top. While still a little cloudy, the views were great as usual, minus the crazy traffic underneath. It gradually started reopening as we were up there and it was fascinating to see how 12 sets of roads being closed causes chaos to the usual traffic.

 

star wars!

star wars!

 

We soaked up Paris for a bit, before heading back down and jumping back on the metro (and finding more Star Wars!) to our final stop for the day. My favourite place in the world. The Louvre.

I can’t express how much I love this place. Even though I don’t love everything in it, the sheer size of the building and its collection means that it is almost impossible not to be in love with a number of things within. A decade ago on a different trip to Paris I visited EVERY room in the building over about a week of different visits. Yep, that is how long it takes. It is overwhelming to say the least.

Coming back it was comforting to find little seemed to have changed. Most things were where I remembered them, and so this trip was mostly about a best of for Kate and I. Visiting works that we each adored was the main plan. You need a plan in the Louvre otherwise you will just lose yourself somewhere in the museum (not a bad thing either).

 

peek-a-boo

peek-a-boo

 

gotcha!

gotcha!

 

First stop were the two sculpture “gardens”. These rooms, being brightly lit and feeling outdoorsy, are a marvel. You can spend an hour just in two rooms, marvelling at the works (and having some fun with them too).

We then had the rough plan to head to the top and start working our way down. Kind of a plan! We knew where our favourites were so ensured that we saw them on our fairly rapid travels.

 

overwhelming

overwhelming

 

On the way to the top we came across the massive room of huge paintings by Rubens. Only in the Louvre could you be virtually the only people in a room of this size and significance. Sigh.

 

petite lacemaker

petite lacemaker

 

One of our first stops was to visit The Lacemaker by Vermeer, one of Kate’s favourites. This painting is exquisite in its small scale, especially given how it could be dwarfed by so many other things in the museum.

 

shifty

shifty

 

cheeky!

cheeky!

 

ego

ego

 

inspirational

inspirational

 

mystery

mystery

 

funny

funny

 

I won’t go into detail about the next few hours, but needless to say we just soaked up the magic of it all, and visited other favourites. We visited Mona, even though neither us still understands why there is the international obsession. Whenever I visit it I love to watch the crowds, 90% of whom approach it, stand for a few seconds, take a picture, and walk off. “Mona Lisa… check!”.

 

victory!

victory!

 

boticelli

botticelli

 

venus

venus

The Winged Victory is another of Kate’s favourites, while for me it is the work of Botticelli and also the Venus de Milo that epitomise the beauty of the Louvre and everything in it. It really is the happiest place on earth.

 

12
Dec

Tranquility

By: muttler
tranquility

tranquility

 

The day began as many have so far… with a quintessential Parisian breakfast. Still not tired of them yet.

star wars!

star wars!

 

I was excited to be up and about again this morning. Because I was in Paris? Yes, but also because I keep seeing Star Wars posters up everywhere! Less than a week! He he.

 

medieval age

medieval age

 

Anyway, so what did we actually get up to? The day began in earnest with a visit to the Musee du Moyen Age (Museum of the Medieval Age) which was only 5 minutes away from our digs. In any other city this museum would be a must see, with its ancient locale (in the remains of old roman baths) and collection of medieval artefacts and tapestries. But in a place like Paris, this is probably one of the those museums you just don’t have time to visit because of everything else there is to see in the city.

 

creepy!

creepy!

 

Kate was keen to see a particular set of tapestries there, so that was as good a reason as any. So just after opening in we popped. As mentioned, it is quite a modest museum compared with everything else the city has to offer. As a result we moved through quite quickly, checking out statues and stained glass that had been rescued from different places.

 

stunning

stunning

 

We then arrived in the room of the their main drawcard, the series of 6 tapestries known as the Lady and the Unicorn. Dating to the 15th century, their origins are a bit of a mystery. The symbolism behind them is the 5 senses, and 5 of the 6 represent them. The 6th ties them all together, with its full meaning still a bit unclear.

 

the 6th mystery tapestry

the 6th mystery tapestry

 

The works are really quite amazing, and seeing them hung in the one room is quite powerful. Easily worth the time to visit, and probably a shame more people don’t get to see what is undoubtedly an amazing piece of art.

 

back at notre dame

back at notre dame

 

With that, we decided to keep wandering down Boulevard Saint-Michel to hit the Seine, and on to the small island that is home to Notre Dame. The weather had cleared a bit, so we decided now was as good a time as any to visit the gargoyles at the top.

 

a common sight

a common sight

 

It is worth paying note again to the huge police and military presence there is around Paris. We were starting to see it even more, and here at Notre Dame was no exception. Constant armed forces wandered past, and we were being security checked into virtually every building we entered, even shopping centres and supermarkets. We weren’t sure if this had been the new norm for a little while or if recent events had put this into action, but sadly we were getting used to the constant security checks and balances.

 

the coolest gargoyle

the coolest gargoyle

 

The queue to head to the top was quite short so up we went. I always get a kick out of seeing the gargoyles on top looking out over Paris. Sure it is a cliche, but it is things like these cliches that are part of what makes Paris so special.

 

this guy is pretty cool too

this guy is pretty cool too

 

It was a bit cloudy so views weren’t spectacular, but still enough to gaze out far and wide.

 

hi joan!

hi joan!

 

Back down the spiral staircase it was, and into Notre Dame proper. Kate had never actually been in, so it was cool to be with her for her first visit. We said hi to Joan, and move through fairly quickly.

Given we have museum passes that run until Sunday, we were looking to visit all the things we were keen that were covered on it. So we decided it was time to rest, clear our minds, and enjoy some tranquility. The Musee de l’Orangerie is the place to go.

 

50 points!

50 points!

 

another 50!

another 50!

 

On our way I spied my first couple of Space Invaders perched up high. Score! I really need to be more vigilant as there are SO many around Invaders home town.

In no time we arrived at the l’Orangerie. This museum is a small collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works, that are in tune with the d’Orsay in many respects. But the reason to come here is to enter into the first main rooms and just sit. I had not been here in a long time so had not had a chance to enjoy Monet’s Water Lilies as intended. After clearing your mind in an empty room, you wander in to two huge spaces and a surrounded by the beautiful greens and blues of the immense canvases that comprise Monet’s work. I had seen these canvases before, and much of the related work, but to sit in a stark room surrounded by them was amazing.

 

all blissed out

all blissed out

So we sat. Soaking up the small details in the works. We could have sat their for hours really, enjoying from back and up close. And we did for quite a while before moving through the rest of the modest (in size) collection.

 

hanging out in rodin's garden

hanging out in rodin’s garden

 

Out we wandered back into the hub-bub of Paris. The day had turned quite lovely, so we thought we should go back to Musee Rodin to enjoy the sculpture garden that we missed previously. So much nicer wandering about in the fine weather… umbrellas don’t really help do the gardens justice!

 

still thinking

still thinking

 

Speaking of cliches, I couldn’t help but get yet MORE photos of the statues and The Thinker in particular.

With this, our day was winding up so we headed back to the hotel. I still had some energy, so I decided to make use of some late opening hours and head back out. Destination Louvre!

 

dramatic!

dramatic!

 

Even though it was only a 20 minute walk from our hotel, it still pays to check you have the right museum when looking to visit late. Seems late nights at the Louvre are Wednesday and Friday, not Thursday as I thought. Seemed I got my wires crossed! Bah!

 

the tower spying out over paris

the tower spying out over paris

 

That was OK, more time to enjoy the brisk streets of Paris and see some of the sights lit up. Venus could wait until tomorrow.

P.S everyone… I am about a day behind in posts so will try my best to catch up!

10
Dec

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

By: muttler
of course i was going to do something like this

of course i was going to do something like this (and kate would be there to capture it)

 

Kate had today all planned out. But sometimes the weather changes your plans hey? But in this case it wasn’t the “damn, it’s raining” type change, rather “boy, it’s gorgeous outside!”. So rather than do some more museums and the opera house, we decided to get our butts into gear, and hop on a train to Versailles.

I had been to Versailles way back in 2000, and Kate had been before but had not had a chance to explore much of the grounds, so it was always a plan to go. But given much of the fun of the day is wandering the gardens we decided to jump on the nice day.

I know you all know, but Versailles was the royal chateau for a while, when Louis XIV moved out to the (then) countryside to chill out and party and do business. The site has the main chateau and then huge gardens that house some other important historic buildings, including where Marie Antoinette resided. Apologies (or thankfully!), this is probably the extent of the history lesson for you! It is to keep my historical ignorance and mistakes to a minimum 🙂

 

get ready for lots of gold

get ready for lots of gold

 

A short 45 minute train ride and we were in the township of Versailles itself and did the short wander to the palace itself. Like yesterday we enjoyed the benefits of being here in low tourist season, and had no wait at all. Even nicer was that we only had to compete with a handful of tourist buses and their hoards.

 

opulence begins

opulence begins

 

We decided to start by touring through the palace. For those that haven’t been, it is all about walking through the opulence and soaking up the ways of living from back in the 17th century.

 

just decided the ceiling needed a bit of paint

just decided the ceiling needed a bit of paint

 

could use that in our house

could use that in our house

 

do we look at home?

do we look at home?

 

The self guided tour leads you through the many furnished apartments throughout… the State Apartments, Kings and Queens. All decked out in their seemingly total impractical nature. There were constant questions of “how could you just relax in here?!” or “boy that bed is small!” or “check out that chandelier!”.

 

louis xiv watching over us

louis xiv watching over us

 

local homie

local homie

 

As we went around we constantly snapped pics of the extravagance of the palace. As Kate just said, it sure is a big palace for French kings and queens!

 

into the gardens

into the gardens

 

Because of the small number of tourists we found ourselves making our way through much faster than we remembered. So with a quick bite to eat, we headed out into the gardens and off toward the back corner of the grounds to visit some more of the palace buildings.

 

creepy!

creepy!

 

even creepier!

even creepier!

 

What was quite odd about being here in winter is that all the stone busts and statues were covered up. We could only assume it was to protect against the weather. But man, it sure made for some creepy images! Seeing the stark trees and the covered figures, it was like we were in a horror film!

 

inside the big trianon

inside the big trianon

 

The wander was super nice… brisk, but beautiful in the sunshine. Our next point of call was the Grand Trianon, a retreat for the king where he also got up to shenanigans with his head mistress. This building could be seen as a mini chateau… a smaller building but still decked out in 17th century opulence. Again, it was delightful to wander through and in this case the marble work was something else.

 

a smaller trianon

a smaller trianon

 

the lady herself

the lady herself

 

Next it was back into the gardens to check out the little sibling of the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon. The petite version was all about removing as many formalities as possible, and as such was much less of showing wealth and privilege, and much more about functional living. This was so much so that Marie Antoinette was said to have favoured this chateau to get away from the formalities of her life.

 

yum!

yum!

 

Given where we were, and being surrounded by extravagance, we thought it appropriate to do some indulging ourselves. How you ask? With macarons! Yum! We could resist having an Angelinas here at Versailles and not take advantage. I tossed up between pistachio and lemon, and went the lemon macaron (as well as some of Kate’s chocolate and vanilla). Mmmm… they hit the spot.

 

temple l'amour

temple l’amour

 

On our wanders we came across the cute Temple de l’Amore, or the temple of love. With the day being gloriously sunny it was really charing sitting there amongst the gardens.

 

provincial french farming

provincial french farming

 

popping in to see the locals

popping in to see the locals

 

Our final destination in the gardens was in many respects the most odd. It was a collection of buildings affectionately known as Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet… a collection of farm houses that were built to help her realise her dream of being a milkmaid. Yep, you read that right. As such the buildings were a really oddball collection of British influenced cottages, complete with streams and waterwheels. There was even a working farm still there, complete with goats and chickens. How strange! Really cute but just totally weird all at once.

 

the more formal (less fun) version of the picture at the top

the more formal (less fun) version of the picture at the top

 

kate says goodbye

kate says goodbye

 

With the grounds explored (not nearly the whole lot, but a sizeable chunk) we wandered back to the main chateau, the day fast disappearing. We had been on the go for many hours and so it was time to jump on a train back to Paris.

We had plans of popping back to see Rodin, or visiting the Arc de Triomphe on our return, but by the time we got back into the city we were just a bit tired and hungry. So rather, we opted for some delicious crepes (savoury and sweet!) near our hotel and just relaxed for the rest of the night. In no time we were both fast asleep. Too much good living can do that to you.

 

09
Dec

Getting Reacquainted

By: muttler
just hanging out in paris

just hanging out in paris

 

I love Paris. But it has been over 10 years since I was here last. 10 years! And before that I had spent a number of weeks becoming  familiar with the city and every room in the Louvre. So it is a buzz to be back, especially with Kate.

Today was a Tuesday, meaning if we wanted to do galleries and museums, we had to plan ahead. The Louvre for one was closed, but so too many others. And the grim weather forecast meant that indoors was maybe for the best. But never fear, Kate had her plan, so after a slower start (which happens when you are awake at 6am and it is quite dark until about 8am), we headed out for some breakfast.

 

of course there are just big blocks of ice out front of the pantheon

of course there are just big blocks of ice out front of the pantheon

 

boo!

boo!

 

As we left the hotel, it was nice to lay eyes on the Pantheon in the daylight, having arrived after sunset. What was intriguing is that it seemed to be home to some comment on the recent climate summit, with large blocks of ice on the forecourt staying fresh in the brisk morning. Seemed there were also predators around every corner.

 

the sun rises over notre dame

the sun rises over notre dame

 

So off we wandered, hitting the Seine, and meandering along. The sun was emerging, giving us glorious views of Notre Dame, and filling us with even more reinforcement (as if we needed it) that coming to Paris was a pretty magic idea.

 

simple yet delicious

simple yet delicious

 

Next a quintessential cafe greeted us on one corner, so in we popped. Here was the first of probably many of this breakfast for the next week. The French staple… coffee, juice, bread and croissant. Mmmm. There is something deliciously elegant in the simplicity. I’m sure in a few days I will be after something different, but for now the novelty was too strong. Kate opted for her go-to, pain au chocolat and she too was soaking up being back in Paris.

 

where's hugo?

where’s hugo?

 

First main stop was the Musee d’Orsay, probably second only to the Louvre here for important works of art (and that is saying something). It is hard to top the rooms full of impressionist paintings as well as the amazingly refurbished train station that houses the collection.  There is just something way too cool about looking through the huge clocks and seeing the Sacre Coeur high in the distance.

 

so gorgeous

so gorgeous

 

breathtaking

breathtaking

 

We decided to start at the top, working our way down. Seeing the impressionist works first made us feel at home and continue the buzz of being in Paris. Over the next few hours we wandered through the space, not having to cope with too many visitors, which I imagine will continue to be the same over the coming week.

 

disrespecting art pt 1

disrespecting art pt 1

 

disrespecting art pt 2

disrespecting art pt 2

 

We also started showing our respect for many of the works of art by, well, maybe not showing as much respect as we could. But it is hard to go past many of the statues in particular without paying homage in our own silly way.

Lunchtime had arrived and we decided to head out, hit the streets, and find some food. “Should we pop in here?”. “What about this one?”. “Or here?”… and so it continued as passed cafe upon cafe. Too many decisions! In the end Kate was feeling salady, so we found somewhere for her to put together her own while I jumped on the baguette and we kept wandering to find somewhere to eat.

 

rainy parisian lunch

rainy parisian lunch

 

Sadly, it was about now that the forecasted rain arrived and started to dampen our lunch plans. Hhhmmm… where to sit! We were headed towards Les Invalides, and decided to pop down on an indiscriminate park bench by the side of a street to tuck in before the rain got too heavy. Not quite a beautiful Parisian locale, but functional!

 

going to visit napoleon

going to visit napoleon

 

With sustenance to boost our energy, off we continued to the nearby Les Invalides. This is home to the tomb of Napoleon, and while we had both been here before, our museum passes meant the vast majority of sights were now free for us to wander in, so in we went. He we were met with our first real taste of what may become the norm in the city. A number of armed guards, checking bags and inside our jackets before entering. While getting into any major museum and public space is always going to have its checks, this seemed like the ante had been upped.

 

that's a big coffin

that’s a big coffin

 

We wandered into the huge building. There is always something pretty crazy about seeing the huge casket inside casket inside casket (etc.) in the middle of the space. I did a quick look in the gift shop for a cheap Napoleon style hat, but alas it wasn’t to be.

 

3 thinkers

3 thinkers

 

We did a quick wander around and kept moving. In many respects the main reason for visiting Napoleon was that Les Invalides was right near a museum that was a huge favourite of both of us, the Musee Rodin. It had recently just gone through a major refurb, and the entire space had just reopened. Win! Alas, the rain was making our visit difficult to enjoy and soak up properly (ha, soak… see what I did there) but in we went anyway, starting with the displays inside an old hotel that resides on the grounds.

 

some big hands

some big hands

 

His work is incredible, and it is always so cool to see not only the works but the moulds and the entire creative process.

We were starting to hit the wall a little (going to the other side of the world will do that to you), so after making our way through the indoor part of the museum, we decided to give the gardens, housing his larger works, a miss for the time being. The relentless rain helped us with that decision too!

So off we tramped, back toward a Metro station. Of course, on our way we walked past a gorgeous looking patisserie and couldn’t help ourselves. Kate got her eclair (as I could have guessed) while I went a little rogue and got a big slice of flan. Delicious!

 

paying respects

paying respects

 

It was approaching 5pm by the time we arrived back at our hotel. We were both pretty tired, but decided to wander into the Pantheon since we had some time up our sleeve before it closed. Housing crypts for many distinguished French men and women, it is cool to have a quick wander in the depths of the old church. While many were unknown to me (possibly showing my ignorance), there were some that have proven to be quite important to me and my study & work, such as Louis Braille, and Marie and Pierre Curie.

 

visiting louis

visiting louis

 

Phew! Our first day was nearly done. We were both pretty tired, so off it was to a nearby cafe for some dinner (still happy hour!) and then to rest up after our first day. Ah Paris. I’ve missed you.