Paris Je t’aime

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It’s closing night at the Alliance Française French Film Festival here in Adelaide. The movie for tonight is Paris Je t’aime. A very cliché movie for sure, but it has lots of wonderful moments, showcasing my favourite city and all its arrondissements.

It is a gloomy, rainy and cold day today here in Adelaide but maybe I’ll be able to persuade hubby to head out to the cinema with me. The Alliance Française French Film Festival runs for approximately 2 weeks each year. It is a wonderful way to bring French movies to the general public. I usually try my best to make the most of it as French films are not so easy to come by. This year however, I have only managed to catch one movie. The ongoing renovations at our house has practically assassinated my personal life. It is quite depressing actually, as all plans for travel to France have also been put on hold.

So on this cold autumn day, I have finally gotten around to completing our last trip report (two years overdue). I did that partly to reminisce, and partly to give myself a chance to enjoy our photos, taken on that last trip, oh so long ago. Hubby must have sensed my restlessness because he cooked me a big pot of hearty bœuf bourgignon which we will have for our dinner tonight. I guess this means I’ll have to head into the city to get us some crunchy baguettes.

Work on our renovation is moving at snail’s pace. It has been rather disheartening. The only thing that keeps us going is the vision of having a wonderful ‘éspace française’ that we can call our own.

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23/9/12 – One Last Day In Paris

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We woke up bright and early on our last morning in Paris. Suddenly, we felt like even though we had spent almost a week here, we had not experienced enough of what this beautiful city has to offer.

Our first stop for the morning was Centre Pompidou. With hubby’s love of modern art, I figured he would be like a kid in a candy store in this incredible museum dedicated to modern art. Centre Pompidou is the largest museum for modern art in Europe. The architecture of the building itself can only best be described as a building turned onside out. It is quite an unexpected sight.

Affectionately known as Le Beaubourg by the locals, this is a shrine to all things Modern Art.

Affectionately known as Le Beaubourg by the locals, this is a shrine to all things Modern Art.

The inside of the museum is an endless kaleidoscope of modern art. With over 100,000 pieces on display, with contributions from over 6567 artists, it is truly mind-boggling. And the works were display were not just restricted to paintings. There were sculptures and installations.

An installation of different colours

An installation of different colours.

Even the signs for the bathroom facilities got the Centre Pompidou treatment.

Bathroom signs.

Bathroom signs.

We spent over 3 hours in that museum. I think hubby was quite reluctant to leave but I was quite happy to move on. An Impressionist lover like myself can only take Modern Art is small doses and this was a whopping big serve of the bizarre, geometric and abstract. I can’t say that I enjoyed my visit to this museum as much as I did Fondation Maeght in St-Paul-de-Vence, or even Espace Dali in Montmartre. I think those two smaller museums were very well curated and was able to serve Modern Art in smaller chunks that a non-Modern Art aficionado could enjoy.

Moving on, we made our way to Palais Garnier. This time we managed to get inside the beautiful opera house. To say that it’s beautiful is a gross understatement. Everywhere we looked, everything was covered in gilded gold. There were marble columns, friezes, statues, chandeliers. You can see why it is considered the most famous opera house in the world.

The grand staircase

The grand staircase.

The Triumph of Apollo

The Triumph of Apollo.

Surrounded by all this classic Baroque beauty and opulence, one can easily understand why the drama and mystery of this place inspired Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera.

The Grand Foyer, which was restored in 2004, is 18 metres high, 154 metres long and 13 metres wide. At each separate ends of the foyer is the Salon de la Lune and the Salon du Soleil. It is an amazing space, with wonderful details and sumptuous decorations.

The Grand Foyer

The Grand Foyer.

One of the many chandeliers

One of the many chandeliers.

The auditorium can seat up to 1979 and boasts a ceiling painted by Marc Chagall, depicting scenes from operas by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi, Berlioz, Rameau, Bizet, Adam, Ravel, Mussorgsky, Wagner, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Gluck and France’s own son Debussy. There are some who believe that Chagall’s work is not in harmony with the rest of the éspace, and I have to say that I am inclined to agree.

One of the box seats in the auditorium is open for public viewing. It is amazing to sit in one of the velvet chairs, and pretend that you were at opening night of the latest ballet (most operas are now staged at the Opéra Bastille). Hubby and I vowed that one day, we will have to come back for a ballet (we missed the opening night of the latest production by one day).

Moving on from all that grandeur and imposing beauty, we decided to head down to rue Royale to our favourite Ladurée store. Even on a Sunday, there was a queue to buy those delicious bites of macarons. Walking down rue Royale, we came to the doors of Église de la Madeleine.

Inspired by the Maison Carreé at Nîmes, this church has had a turbulent past. In its current form, it was built as a monument to commemorate ‘La Gloire de la Grande Armée’. After the fall of Napoléon, Louis XVIII decreed that it would be a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It was finally consecrated in 1842.

We had walked past this church during our last visit, but did not have time to step in for a visit. Imagine our delight when we discovered that there was a service in progress. I managed to discreetly film part of it.

Unable to explore the rest of the church with the service in session, we decided to head back to the apartment. It was time to start packing for our trip home. We wandered down rue de Buci one last time. It was rather obvious to us that we had to visit our local oyster guy at L’Atlas for one last takeaway seafood dinner. He was lovely and friendly as usual. When we told him that it was our last night in the city, he placed 4 freshly shucked oysters in a box and said to us ‘un petit cadeau pour vous’. We thanked him for his kindness and vowed to be back on our next trip.

Soaking the sounds of the streets of Paris from our open windows, we fell asleep to that gentle lullaby one last time in our rented apartment.

Mes Trésors Préférés

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We are heading into the 9th month of our renovation. It has been much more work and stress than we anticipated. All plans for French travel have been put on hold and I am missing France dearly. We have scoured all over the internet to find authentic French items to furnish our ‘Petite Maison’. Some searches lasted over 3 months. Now with the exception of a console table and another set of 6 dining chairs, we are almost done. I cannot wait to place their beautiful things in our new home. The anticipation and excitement is killing me. Here is a quick glimpse of what we found. Most of our finds have been on French eBay. If you’re looking for authentic French items, without the inflated price tag, doing all the searches in French, and contacting the sellers in French is really the best way to go.

We found a local antique dealer who has beautiful French furniture. We bought most of our furniture from him. Here are some of my favourites.

19th Century Walnut Commode with an ébéniste stamp R Bacchin.

19th century walnut commode with floral marquetry and ormolu legs. It comes with an ébéniste stamp – R Bacchin.

19th Century Walnut Parquetry Dining Table

19th century walnut parquetry dining table. This table extends to fit up to 16 people!!!

Louis XV French Oak Dining Chairs

A set of 6 Louis XV french oak dining chairs, stained to match our dining table.

Pair Of Early 20th Century Bergère Armchairs

A pair of early 20th century bergère armchairs, still in their beautiful original fabric. I love the beautiful pink and gold stripes on the fabric.

19th Century Louis XV Bedside Tables

A pair of 19th century Louis XV bedside tables with floral marquetry and ormolu mounts.

Early 20th Century French Oak Cabinet

Early 20th century french oak cabinet which we had converted into a vanity for our ensuite.

19th Century Walnut Cabinet

19th century walnut cabinet which we had converted into the vanity for our family bathroom.

Early 20th Century Trumeau Mirror

Early 20th century trumeau mirror, with hand-gilded gold leaf.

Early 20th Century Canapé With Matching Bergères

We fell in love with this early 20th century canapé with a pair of matching bergères. With the right fabric, it will look lovely in our newly renovated space.

Matching Bergère Chairs

Matching bergère chairs.

Early 20th Century Oak Double Bed

A beautiful early 20th century oak double bed for our guest room/study. The carving details on this bed is wonderfully intricate.

Our Bed From The Ritz Paris

When The Ritz Paris was closed for renovation, they sold all their old furniture. We managed to snag a king-sized bed that used to live in one of their rooms. We had it reupholstered in a Scalamandré fabric printed based on an old Louis XV pattern.

Our Newly Reupholstered Bed

Our newly reupholstered bed.

I fell in love with the beautiful style of French mantelpieces. However, even I knew that our budget did not allow us to purchase that and have it shipped over from France. When hubby’s friend posted this beautiful marble mantelpiece for sale on Facebook, I almost fell over. They were renovating their home, and this beautiful French design did not suit their Victorian-style home. We transported this mantelpiece in our car, all the way from Melbourne to Adelaide.

Hand-Carved French Marble Mantelpiece

This beautiful hand-carved french marble mantelpiece is over 100 years old.

I managed to find a wonderful eBay seller who collects antique french lighting. I managed to purchase almost all our light fittings from him. All our fittings are made of solid cast brass. They once lived in homes and apartments in the Nord-Pas-Calais region. When these homes and apartments were demolished or refurbished, these beautiful light fixtures were thrown out or sent to the rubbish heap. My seller goes round and collects them instead. We managed to buy 6 pairs of wall sconces and a pair of chandeliers from him.

Brass Wall Sconces From France

Some of the brass wall sconces from France.

Louis XV Brass Chandelier

We got a pair of beautiful Louis XV chandeliers. They were disassembled and shipped over in two boxes from France.

I cannot claim credit for this next purchase. I spent over 4 months searching everywhere for 3 Louis XV lanterns to go in our newly renovated kitchen. 3 identical lanterns were virtually impossible to find. And the ones that I managed to find were way out of our budget. It was hubby who found these from a seller in Belgium.

Louis XV Brass Lanterns

Louis XV brass lanterns for the kitchen.

Finding hardware that matched the style that we were trying to create was virtually impossible. Again, we had to look to France.

Brionne Hardware

The Brionne hardware we have chosen for our kitchen are made in France, based on tradition and age-old techniques.

Louis XV Door Handles

I found these Louis XV door handles to replace our existing Victorian-style handles. All they need is a good clean.

Louis XV Brass Handles

One of my most favourite finds – 5 pairs of matching Louis XV brass handles. They lived their former lives in a ‘mas’ in Provence. Now they have been given a new lease of life on our 5 sets of French doors.

Collecting these beautiful pieces has been so exciting, exhausting and at times frustrating. But, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We can’t wait for the renovations to be done so we can place each piece in their very own space.

 

 

 

 

La Petite Maison Française

Yes, it’s been a long long while since I last posted. Hubby and I are right smack-bang in the middle of major renovations to our home. We embarked on this crazy adventure sometime last year and now, we are probably about 2 to 3 months away from the finish line. Yes, there will probably be walls to paint and curtains to hang still, but at least the main bulk of the work will be finished. It has been a long, ridiculously difficult and at times painful journey. In fact, it still is.

We have decided to renovate our home in the French style – something only a crazy person would want to do on a limited budget, especially here in Australia. But we decided to surround ourselves with things we love and what we love is all things French. So I decided to create a separate blog on the renovation for other people out there, especially in Australia, who want to decorate in the French style but don’t know where to source their items from. I purchased many things for our home from France. And yes that involved lengthy emails (it has improved my French tremendously) and lots and lots of research.

Here’s a link to the blog if you want to have a quick peek.

Yes, I will eventually get round to finishing the final post on our last trip report. Unfortunately we have not been able to travel to France for the last 2 years because of this huge renovation. But we do plan on going next year – originally in Jan/Feb for the snow, but it’s looking more like July or September at the moment with our schedules.

À bientôt.

22/9/12 – A Lazy Saturday in Paris

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After the jam-packed last few days, we decided to have a relaxing Saturday. My original plan for us was to visit the flea market at Porte de Vanves, but that would have meant another early morning start, which hubby wasn’t entirely keen on. So we decided to sleep in instead. The markets would have to wait till our next trip, again.

By the time we woke up, after we did a little laundry in the apartment, and were ready to head out, it was late morning. Feeling rather peckish, we decided to have a picnic brunch in Jardin du Luxembourg. We picked up some jambon and fromage from our local store, a baguette from Paul’s (I know it seems sacrilege to buy bread from a chain-store, but when you’re in a hurry, it’s still decent bread), and a bottle of champagne from the caviste. Hubby even found a store down the road that sold really yummy looking palmiers, so we got some of those too.

Since it was a beautiful day, we decided to walk to the garden. Jardin du Luxembourg is the second largest public park in Paris, and a very popular one at that. Designed for Marie de Medici, who later became Queen of France, it is modelled after the gardens she was familiar with in Florence, bringing an Italian Baroque influence to the formal French garden design.

Le Palais du Luxembourg

Le Palais du Luxembourg

Le Palais du Luxembourg

Le Palais du Luxembourg

La fontaine de Medicis

La fontaine de Medicis

It is a calm oasis of green trees, fountains and sculptures, right in the heart of the city. It is very popular with the lunch crowd, who congregate around the pond to have their leisurely lunches and catch-ups with friends.

A relaxing afternoon

A relaxing afternoon

We were lucky to find a seat around the pond and promptly set ourselves up for our picnic lunch. All around us were local Parisians enjoying the afternoon lunch break. There were senior citizens enjoying the sun, families with young children playing with their sail boats in the pond, there was also a group of uni students having a group picnic, seated on the ground next to us. It was a glorious day. It sounds cliché, but it was definitely one of my top moments in Paris.

The pond

The pond

Glorious day for a picnic lunch

Glorious day for a picnic lunch

We had a simple but very satisfying lunch – fresh crusty bread with ham and cheese, washed down by the icy cold bubbles of the French champagne… And for dessert, delicious hand-made chocolate and sweet, crispy, flaky palmier. You could not ask for more!

Strolling through the garden

Strolling through the garden

After our leisurely lunch, we took a short stroll to Val-de-Grâce. Val-de-Grâce is a military hospital located in the 5ème. The church of the Val-de-Grâce was built by order of Queen Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, and previously childless after 23 years of marriage, to show her gratitude to the Virgin Mary after the birth of her son. It is a fine example of Baroque architecture. The opening times for this church are very limited, and we arrived during the opening hours but the doors were shut and no one appeared to be around. So unfortunately we did not get to see the inside.

Val-de-Grâce

Val-de-Grâce

Moving along we took a detour down rue Saint-Jacques, l’Université Paris-Sorbonne. My tutor studied at this university and she told me that if I was in the area, I had to take a stroll by the university. We then doubled back to The Panthéon. When Louis XV recovered from a life-threatening illness in 1744, he was so grateful that he decided to build a church to honor Sainte Genevieve. The design was entrusted to Jacques-Germain Soufflot, who planned the church in a neoclassical style. Consruction began in 1764 and continued after Soufflot’s death until 1790. During the Revolution, the church was turned into a Panthéon – a location for the tombs of France’s good and great. Napoleon returned it to the church in 1806, but it was secularized, then desecularized before finally being made into a civic building in 1885. Inspired by the Roman Pantheon, the temple portico has 22 Corinthian columns. Walking through the front entrance, you get a certain sense of awe, like you’re in the presence of greatness.

The Pantheon

The Panthéon

The portico and its corinthian columns

The portico and its corinthian columns

The inscription above the entrance reads ‘AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE’. This is the place where France buries her great men. This acknowledgement is not given lightly. Interment here is only given by a parliamentary act for ‘National Heroes’. Its necropolis holds the remains of famous men such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo. In fact, there is only one woman interred here based on her own merits – Marie Curie, the woman who discovered radium, the first female Nobel prize winner, and a pioneer of the study of radioactivity.

Inside the dome

Inside the dome

I have to admit that I had misgivings about exploring the crypt. Not that it was very scary. It was in fact, quite well-lit, with lots of installations, videos and plaques, each detailing the famous people who are buried there. And then there were the big tour groups. The French have a very healthy respect and regard for their famous, dead people. There were groups of guided tours, all speaking French. To my surprise, it was a very interesting visit. You get the sense that you are surrounded by history of greatness and achievements. Suddenly, you are face to face with names you read about in books. I stood in front of the crypt of the author of my favourite book of all time – Victor Hugo. That was a big deal for me. (Glad to see his neighbour is Alexandre Dumas, another favourite author of mine.)

Voltaire

Voltaire

Rousseau

Rousseau

My fave author of all times - Victor Hugo

My fave author of all time – Victor Hugo

When it was time to leave, I was surprised to find that we had spent over 2 hours there. On our way back to the apartment, I had to stop by at a bookstore my tutor had told me about – Gibert Jeune. Gibert Jeune is a monster of a bookstore. It has 4 buildings full of books on place Saint-Michel alone (there are 5 other buildings). I loaded up with grammar books, story books… To my delight, I even found a French abridged version of Les Misérables.

Dinner that night was a simple fare of bread with pan-fried foie gras – we had to finish the block we bought the day before. For dessert, we went down to Smith’s Bakery on rue de Buci. This Americanised bakery sells our favourite Berthillon ice-cream. Feasting on our cones of delicious ice-cream, we wandered around our ‘quartier’, taking in the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood. The St-Germain-des-Prés is a well-heeled neighbourhood, almost a little too touristy, but there sure is a lot to see and there is no shortage of restaurants and eateries, and the night-life is very vibrant.

Turning in for the night, we left the windows open as it was a warm night. The sounds from the busy street below (yes, even at midnight) came wafting through the apartment, as we fell asleep to the sounds of the streets of Paris.

21/9/12 – Il Pleuvait à Paris

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We were back at Le Bon Marché bright and early in the morning. Hubby’s aunty had asked us to get her her dream Chanel bag. We thought it best not to leave it to the last minute. We thought we would beat the crowds if we got there early but when we got there, there was a security guard outside the boutique. There were many people in the shop and we had to wait till they left to get in. I could not believe this was happening in my favourite department store. (It is for this very reason that we avoid Printemps and LaFayette.) Thankfully, the guy who served mum the other day saw us and waved to the security guard to let us in. Boy did I feel special! 🙂 He was again very helpful and polite and we were quickly shown the model that we asked for. We got to chatting (great way to improve my French) and he was shocked when I told him the inflated price of the exact same bag in Australia. It was ‘le scandale’ and he could not wait to tell his colleague. We paid for our purchase and hurried to get our detaxe forms stamped.

After dropping our shopping off at the apartment, we decided to head to Palais Garnier.   Getting there by métro was easy. However, when we got there, we found out that the opera was closed to visitors that day as there was a performance later on in the evening. That was a bummer. By then the clouds were gathering and it had started to drizzle. We decided to run down Blvd Haussmann. There was a Comtesse du Barry store close by and we had planned on buying lots of tinned foie gras to bring home to Australia. Australia has very strict quarantine laws and only tinned meat products are allowed into the country. I read that Comtesse du Barry had tinned foie gas d’oie (goose foie gras, which is so much yummier than duck). The lady at the counter was pleasant and helpful enough. We bought several tins of foie gras (hubby is a huge fan) and a block of mi-cuit (semi-cooked) to have at our apartment.

Leaving the store, the rain was coming down in earnest. We decided it was time to break out our rainy-day itinerary – Les Passages Couverts de Paris. Les Passages are covered shopping galleries and arcades that are home to a wide variety of shops. The often eccentric and specialty shops are set against a backdrop of amazing architecture. Click here for a list of these galleries and their opening hours. It is a great way to spend a rainy day.

We strolled down Galerie Vivienne, one of the most well-known arcades for clothing, jewellery and accessories. Built in 1823 according to plans designed by the architect François-Jean Delannoy, this arcade was declared a historical monument in 1974. With a 174 metre long walkway laid with intricate mosaics, this arcade is a wonderful treasure trove of luxury boutiques, bookstores and cafés.

Galerie Vivienne

Galerie Vivienne

The beautiful mosaic floors of Galerie Vivienne

The beautiful mosaic floors of Galerie Vivienne

I found a wonderful dépôt-vente store called La Marelle. The proprietor was very welcoming when I stepped into the store. The store looked like what I’d imagine the end of Paris Fashion Week to be. The racks were crammed full of clothes, not a single one of them alike. There were bags, belts, shoes… A few chic-looking Parisians were rummaging through the racks. (So this is how the local Parisians shop…) The prices were incredible – up to 70% off retail prices. If one had the time to rummage through the racks, I’m sure there would be a bargain or two to be found. I gave it a half-hearted rummage but decided to spend my time searching for what I came to Paris for this year – books.

I had by now taken on a very healthy obsession with mastering the French language. Since French books are so difficult (and expensive) to come by in Australia, I wanted to buy as many books as I could to take home with me. I found a quaint little second-hand ‘librairie’ called Jousseaume. I spent a good hour rummaging through the second-hand books on sale, and was so happy with my finds – children’s books (perfect for my level, and improving my French!). At 1-2 euro each, I was ecstatic!!! The friendly proprietor (who looked about as ancient as his ‘librairie’) was very quick to recommend a few titles that he thought would interest me. He even pointed out a few more advanced books for me, ‘for next time, after you have finished with these’ he said.

Choosing my books at the bookshop

Choosing my books at the bookshop

By then, our tummies were beginning to rumble and it was time to head down to rue Montorgueil. We walked down rue La Feuillade, past Place des Victoires. Walking past the square, all I could think about was the poor mother who dreamt of her dead son in the movie ‘Paris J’taime’.

Place des Victoires

Place des Victoires

Along the way, I decided we had to stop by at e.Dehillerin. Recently made famous by the likes of Julia Childs and David Lebovitz, this place is heaven for the serious cook. It has everything your kitchen needs and more. Hubby thought he had gone to chef heaven. Shopping here is quite different to shopping at your usual kitchen-ware store. The shelves are piled full of wares, all in different sizes, but there are no price tags on them. To obtain a price for an item, you have to either consult a huge register, which lists all the items by numbers, or request the assistance of a salesperson. Some people have complained that the staff here are snobby and rude, but we found the guy who was helping us most friendly and polite. It’s the same as everywhere else in Paris, a little effort to speak French and politeness goes a very long way. The price of copper pots were definitely cheaper, and the quality superior, to the ones back home in Australia. Not having the room to lug pots home in our luggage (we hadn’t planned for it this time), we had to content ourselves with a gratin dish. For our next trip, I will be posting some of our clothes home by Colissimo to make room for pot purchases.

By the time we arrived at rue Montorgueil, the rain was coming down in earnest. Starving, wet and cold, we decided to head into the first restaurant that took our fancy. We found a seat at Bistro Burger. A burger place in Paris? Yes, a burger joint in Paris. There was hardly anyone around and we were the only two customers there as it was late in the afternoon. The proprietors down rue Montorgueil were shutting up shop for the day, and it was raining. The guy who served us was very chatty, explaining to us the origin of the beef in his burgers – a breed called Charolais which originate from the Bourgogne region in France. I went with a Burger Fromage while hubby went with a Burger à Cheval. We had a serve of fries and a bottle of Domaine Rouge Garance from Côtes du Rhône. We had very low expectations. Seriously, a burger in Paris? What would the French know about cooking a good burger? But we were so shocked by the quality and deliciousness of the burgers we were served. The patty was cooked to just the right amount of pink, the flavours were good, the meat was top quality… Hubby swore it was one of the best burgers he had ever had and promptly ordered another baby burger with avocado. The rain didn’t stop so we hung around that restaurant for almost 3 hours. We had two bottles of wine and even got to chatting with the guy who was serving us, who was probably the owner. He was very interested when he learned that we were from Australia and asked us lots of questions about the way burgers were cooked in Australia. It was a wonderful meal.

It was early evening by the time we made our way down to L’église Saint-Eustache. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to experience all rue Montorgueil had to offer and vowed to return on our next trip. Saint-Eustache is a fine example of gothic architecture with a huge organ. The was a service in progress while we were there so we didn’t stay long and didn’t take any photos out of respect.

The weather was still dreary and a little chilly so we decided it was time to head home to our apartment. After all the walking we had done for the day, we were keen to stay cosy and dry in our apartment, so we headed down to our trusty bistro L’Atlas for some more seafood takeaway. By now, the guy recognised us and was very friendly, patiently putting up with hubby’s earnest attempt to order in French. Another bottle of champagne from our local caviste Nicolas and we headed home for the evening. Back in our apartment, we pan-fried our block of semi-cooked goose foie gras and filled our tummies with the wonderful seafood. It had been a full day or walking and we were glad to turn in for the night.

20/9/12 – Château de Versailles

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We were up at some ungodly hour this morning. It was time for mum and dad to head back to Malaysia. Hubby and I were staying for the rest of the week. After his bad experience on the RER, dad was flat-out refusing to take it again back to the airport. In the end, we offered to accompany mum and dad to make sure they got on the right RER. Because we had luggage, we decided to take Métro Line 4 at St-Michel instead of walking all the way to the RER station at St-Michel Notre-Dame. The interchange was at Châtelet Les Halles but we navigated that rather easily as it was still early in the morning. Having finally gotten mum and dad on RER B to Charles de Gaulle we rode with them for a few stops before finally getting off (as our Navigo pass only did Zone 1-3).

Heading back to the apartment, we could see the streets of Paris waking up. Being a little sleep-deprived, we decided to have a little sleep in before we officially began our day. It was close to 9am when we finally woke up. It was a beautiful sunny day and so we decided it would be a great day to visit the most visited château in France. But before we could leave for the RER, we had some crucial stops to make.

Heeding the advice from my tutor, we stopped by at our local caviste Nicolas for a bottle of champagne. Today, we chose Perrier-Jouët. I still couldn’t get over how cheap champagne is in France (I was later told by my tutor that it’s not by French standards). We got ourselves some comté and jambon from a local deli and some fruit from the local fruiterer before setting off for the RER station. We walked to St-Michel Notre-Dame and took RER Line C (Versailles Rive Gauche). We had to buy a ticket as it was not covered in our Zone 1-3 only Navigo cards. After a quick 40 minute ride, we arrived at Versailles Rive Gauche. Upon exiting the train station, it’s just another 5 minutes walk to the château. The train was full of tourist so if you’re in doubt, you can always just follow the crowd, I guess.

Walking to Château de Versailles

Walking to Château de Versailles.

You couldn’t possibly miss the entrance to the château with its huge golden gates.

The entrance

The entrance.

We had the Paris Museum Pass, so we didn’t have to worry about purchasing tickets. There is a ticket booth just before the entrance where you can purchase your ticket if needed. I believe you can also purchase it online. Click here for the official website in English. Upon entering the grounds of the château, entry ‘A’, which is to your left, is for individual visitors with a valid ticket. This is the entry to the château. We decided to visit the gardens first, which is the second entry, to the left of entry ‘A’. You have to check in your bags for a visit to the château and we wanted to enjoy our picnic lunch with our ice-cold champagne first 🙂

The palace gardens stretch out as far as the eye could see. Having visited some of the gardens of the chateaux de Loire, I had some idea of the grandness and utter extravagance of these gardens, but I was unprepared for the magnitude of the gardens at Versailles. The central window of the Hall of Mirrors looks down on the grand perspective of the garden which leads the gaze from the Water Parterre to the horizon. This perspective preceded the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who is credited with much of the expansion and renovation of the château, but was developed and prolonged by the gardener André Le Nôtre, who widened the Royal Path and dugged the Grand Canal.

Water Parterre

Water Parterre.

View of the Grand Canal

View of the Grand Canal.

In 1661, not satisfied with just plans for the renovation of the château, Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles. The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. It involved complete landscaping of the existing grounds, which was mere woods, grasslands and marshes. The earth was transported in wheelbarrows, trees were brought in by carts from all over France and thousands of men were enlisted to work on this huge project.

This garden was to become Le Nôtre’s life-long work and his legacy, representing the height of French formal garden style. He was supported in this project by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Superintendent of the King’s Buildings, Charles Le Brun, who produced drawings for a large number of statues and fountains, the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who drew scenic plans and built the Orangerie.

Le Jardin

Le Jardin.

Le jardin

Le jardin.

Bassin d'Apollon

Bassin d’Apollon.

The finished product is one of indescribable elegance and beauty. Truly, it is a work of art. There are numerous references to Apollo, the Greek god of Sun, in the gardens. Known as Le Roi Soleil, or Sun King, Louis XIV was responsible for many important political, social and military reforms, which made him one of the most powerful and influential french monarchs. His love and patronage of the arts drew artisans, musicians, painters, sculptors from all over Europe to his court.

Strolling down towards the Grand Canal, we found a private little picnic spot and decided to have our lunch on one of the many garden benches, The picnic was heavenly. The sun was shining, the view was the best anyone could ask for, the simple fare of bread, cheese and ham, washed down by succulent, juicy berries and the delicate, cold bubbles of Perrier-Jouët. Mmmm… C’était parfait!! We could see the envious looks of passer-bys who were munching on their soggy, greasy pizza slices they had purchased from one of the many food vendors around the garden. There was an excursion of French school children and the school teacher, who called out a cherry ‘Bonjour’ to us, cast a lingering and approving look.

After lunch, we decided we needed to walk off our meal by trekking over to the Grand Trianon. It was a beautiful walk through tree-lined paths. There were also various cyclists about.

Walking through the grounds of the château

Walking through the grounds of the château.

The Grand Trianon, built in 1687 by Jules Hardouin Mansart, consists of red marble of Languedoc, and is heavily influenced by Italian-styled architecture. The Grand Trianon was the royal retreat for the king, away from the rigid, strict formalities of court-life. The rosy-pink hues of the marble, together with the orderly, geometric French-style gardens, lends the Grand Trianon a cosy but elegant ambiance.

Le Grand Trianon

Le Grand Trianon.

While the interior appears more relaxed compared to the grand château itself, it is no less ornately decorated. Each room is filled with beautiful chandeliers, artwork and furniture in a dazzling kaleidoscope of colours and glittering gold.

Beautiful furniture

Beautiful furniture.

When we finally left the Grand Trianon, it was getting rather late in the afternoon. We realised that we would have to leave Le Petit Trianon, Le Temple de l’Amour and Le Hameau de la Reine for our next visit as we still had not yet visited the grand château. To save ourselves some time, we decided to take Le Petit Train.

Le Petit Train is a little tourist train that goes all round the grounds of the château and stops at all the major attractions. During the summer months, there’s virtually a train every  15 minutes so it’s quite handy if you’re short on time. We paid the conductor our 6.90 euro each and got on the train. We were joined by a group of rather rowdy girls and their teacher who promptly got into a disagreement with the driver as there was not enough room on the ‘train’ for all the girls. And then there was a problem with some of the girls not having their ticket stubs with them. The rules were simple – anyone who wants to take the train buys a ticket, they carry the ticket and show it to the conductor who comes around to check it before the ‘train’ leaves. The teacher, instead of setting an example of respecting the rules, decided to argue with the driver about how it was impossible to have individual tickets for each of her students. Her students, by the way, were teenagers, not children. Needless to say she was met with the usual bored, ‘I refuse to help you’ French attitude of the driver. So it was a 5 minute delay before we finally set off. On the train, the obnoxiously arrogant teacher then proceeded to complain about how the French were so difficult to get along, while a few French locals stared at her. Embarrassingly, I found out later that they were a school excursion from Methodist Ladies College, a rather exclusive private girls’ school in Sydney. Needless to say we pretended not to be Australians on that short train ride.

Heading back to the château, we deposited our bags and picked up our free audio-guide before entering. One of the first things we saw when we entered the château was the royal chapel. The present chapel is the fifth in the history of the château. Is is grand and ornately decorated, indicating the important part it played in the daily life at the royal court.

The royal chapel

The royal chapel.

View from the Tribune Royale where the Royal Family heard mass

View from the Tribune Royale where the Royal Family heard mass.

There is only one way to describe the interior of Château de Versailles – complete unashamed, over the top extravagance. It is a beautiful example of the pinnacle of 18th century French art. Everywhere you look, there are beautifully painted ceiling frescoes and wonderfully gilded chandeliers.

Ceiling fresco

Ceiling fresco.

La galerie des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors is an amazingly beautiful room. Even the constant hordes of tourists who wander in and out do little to take away from its breathtaking beauty.

La galerie des Glaces

La galerie des Glaces.

Not just a show-stopper, the gallery’s seventy-three metres was built to signify the glory of political, economic and artistic success of France. France, under the hand of the Sun King had arrived on the world stage and they were not afraid of showing it off to the whole world. La Grande Galerie, as it was known in the 17th century was used daily by courtiers and visitors, and on special occasions for balls, weddings and diplomatic receptions. To this day, the presidents of France continue to receive official guests here. And why not flaunt it, for it is truly a spectacular sight!

La galerie des Glaces

La galerie des Glaces.

Moving on from the Hall of Mirrors, we came to the Royal Apartments, again sumptuously decorated.

The Queen's Grand Apartment

The Queen’s Grand Apartment.

As beautiful as the surroundings were, one could not help but wonder if it was all a gilded cage. The life of the king and queen during Louis XIV’s reign was a strictly regimented routine, timed down to the last minute so that the officers could plan their work as accurately as possible. The entire day was regulated like clockwork, and consisted of rituals and customs like levée and couchée ceremonies, most of which were designed to ‘show off’ the king to the people. Click here for more detailed information on a day in the life of Louis XIV.

Leaving the Grand Appartements, we moved on to the Le Musée de l’Histoire de France. Housed in a gallery which is bigger than the Hall of Mirrors, is the entire history of France in the form of paintings, sculptures and engravings. It is a wonderful place for a history buff. There are no crowds and you can take time to sit down and take the whole place in.

Musée de l'Histoire de France

Musée de l’Histoire de France.

By now, it was almost closing time. We slowly made our way out. The sun was setting and it cast an orange hue on the facade of the château.

Château de Versailles in the evening sun

Château de Versailles in the evening sun.

We made our way back to the train station and took the train back to Paris. The activities of the day and the early morning start was beginning to get to us. We got back to our apartment to freshen up, and decided to head out for an early dinner. We decided to wander down our neighbourhood and I pulled out my list of short-listed restaurants in the 6ème that I had researched for our stay. We walked past a few that didn’t look too interested before finally arriving at Chez Fernand. It had received good reviews on TA and the menu prices looked reasonable so we decided to give it a shot. The restaurant was as we expected – noisy, tables cramped against each other and the service was typically French. We saw many locals eating here but there seemed to be equal amounts of tourists. Service was brisk and not particularly friendly. They were busy and it seemed their main goal was to turn as many tables as possible. We felt that we were hurried through our meal, a rather unusual experience in Paris, as we generally find we can usually enjoy a leisurely meal without getting the impression the wait staff wanted to get us moving along. I had the bœuf bourguignon which was tasty and well cooked but hubby’s dish was rather ordinary (he can’t remember what he had so it was rather forgettable). When we got the bill, we thought the meal was rather pricey for what we had. (To be honest, I wish we had paid the little extra and dined at a 1 Michelin star instead.) Anyhow, we had warm food in our bellies and decided to turn in for the night after a very long day.

Faut-il travailler pour vivre ou vivre pour travailler?

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Alors c’est une question que je me pose souvent – faut-il travailler pour vivre ou vivre pour travailler?

Maintenant, j’aime bien ma vie. Oui, je travaille beaucoup parfois mais je me repose toujours aussi avec mon mari et ma chienne. À Adelaide, je pense que ma vie est parfaite et bien équilibrée, pas comme quand j’étais à Melbourne. À Melbourne, je travaillais cinq jours par semaine et mon mari travaillait six jours par semaine, nous nous reposions ensemble rarement. Ça nous faisait penser qu’on travaillait pour vivre, et pas l’inverse. Oui, nous gagnions l’argent qui nous permettait de voyager en France chaque année mais nous n’avions pas la qualité de vie.
Donc, nous avons décidé de quitter Melbourne. Pourquoi? Pour vivre!! Pour la qualité de la vie, pour des temps pour se reposer avec la famille et notre chienne, pour la santé.

Maintenant, je m’occupe de la rénovation de la maison. Pourquoi nous rénovons notre maison? Pour vivre, pour avoir un espace calme et tranquille qui nous appartient, loin des bruits et des affaires du monde. Et voilà, il faut que nous gagnions de l’argent pour faire cette rénovation. Et alors, nous travaillons encore!

Je pense que le secret pour la vie : ce n’est pas beaucoup d’argent, ce n’est pas beaucoup de temps pour vivre, c’est l’équilibre!

Les Fleurs de Tournesol

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Les Fleurs de Tournesol.

Les Fleurs de Tournesol.

Alors, il fait très mauvais aujourd’hui comme il faisait mauvais hier et bien sûr comme il faisait mauvais avant-hier. Il pleut, il grêle. Hier matin, il a neigé à la petite montagne à Adelaide – Mont Lofty.

La mauvaise météo me rappelle mes vacances. Il y a deux ans exactement que nous avons été en France pour la premiere fois. Je me souviens les longs jours en vacances, pleins de chaleur et de lumière de l’été. En Bourgogne, nous conduisions dans les chemins à travers des petits villages, côté par les champs qui étaient plein à craquer de belles fleurs de tournesol, nous buvions le bon vin régional et nous faisions de pique-nique dans la campagne. C’était des vacances inoubliable.