A Travellerspoint blog

Cold, cold France

It's officially winter now


View France + Belgium 2013-14 on LucyLucey's travel map.

It's officially winter now, so we're allowed to bitch about the cold; previously, it just showed weakness of character, but now it is permitted to feel and complain about the cold. Anyway, that's what I think.

Some of our most recent outings have been quite cold; first we went to the Champs Elysees to look at the Christmas Market, and the shops, and the lights. Being night is was cold, so we all rugged up - two pullovers, an over coat, hat and gloves, and still it was cold. The two grown-ups bought a tumbler full of gluwein (or what ever the French call it) to warm our hand and out insides. It worked to a degree.

I'm not sure how long the walk from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomph is (pardon my French, I don't have a reliable spell checker available, and I do rely on them) but on a warm sunny day it is a delightful walk; on a cold winter's night it is a treat to the eyes (and occasionally the ears) but it is freezing on the face and those bits of your legs where the wind blows your trousers against your calf. Perhaps it's just age; but there were not too many people wearing tee-shirts.

The following day, we took the train for an 80 km journey to Chartres (further from the coast and its' thermally ameliorating influence) to visit the Cathedral and the old town - we were much more exposed to the wind, it cut right through us at times. One of the high-lights was standing on a grill in the floor of the cathedral, a breeze at about 30 degrees was wafting through it. A man came and spoke with us with a strong French accent; in one hand he was carrying a bunch of a very prickly plant (I know the plant but can't recall it's name) and he told us where and when to see interesting parts of the building. The Labyrinth can only be seen on Fridays; something else can bee seen at a certain hour when a shaft of light illuminates it. He described the parable told the stained glass window in front of us. By this time, I was getting very hot in all of my clothes standing on the warm grill, and began to feel a little ill as you do, I kept looking for a polite way to move on with out offending our new made friend.

The Cathedral is really great - not large, as far as these things go, but wonderful to experience.

If it was not so cold and windy I would have preferred to spend more time looking at the outside as well as the inside. The spires were built at different periods and are quite different.

Today (Sunday 22nd) we visited La Defense, and at one point exposed ourselves to the icy blasts of the wind that blows from the Great Arch of La Defese up to the Arc de Triomph. There was another Christmas market there, and beneath it an enormous shopping centre full of people doing last minute shopping, or just out for a good time. The Grand Arch I read is high enough and wide enough to contain Notre Dame, Paris; so it has quite a large opening through it. The structure supporting the sails inside the arch is pretty ugly, and I'm sure that a better solution could be found.

I have followed the development of La Defense for about 40 years (on and off) in the Architectural Journals, and it's nice to know that they weren't just making it all up.

Posted by LucyLucey 21:22 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris

Continues on - following Montpellier

sunny 12 °C
View France + Belgium 2013-14 on LucyLucey's travel map.

Tuesday 17th

OK,
It's too hard to squeeze everything in - I'll get back to the other adventures from Montpellier when/if time permits.

We're in Paris, the sun never gets over the yard arm - it doesn't even get half way up to the yard arm!
Yesterday we had a long train journey from the south to the north of France - I guess about 800 km at speeds up to about 250 km/hr. They are awesome trains, the poor old Spirit of Progress was never this good. Most of the way I read my Norton's Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2, so I'm very temporarily an expert on William Blake, Robbie Burns, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wordsworth - 194 pages of 2,543 pages read!

We are at Maisons-Laffitte - about 18 km from the centre of Paris. After the luxury of our last accommodation, we have to adapt to a small apartment on the first floor. M-L has a 2.2 km racecourse (the Hippodrome) - it's grass - all in a straight line; the longest in the world, and it runs along the banks of the Seine. None of this clock-wise vs anti-clockwise nonsense for them! There are other race tracks in town too, but the Hippodrome is its' most famous. Mercifully, the horses are spelled over winter.

Today we went to town - first stop: the Cimetiere de Pere Lachaise in the 20e Arrondissment (sorry, I don't know how to add accents, and fighting the American spell check is painful); we paid our respects to Jim Morrison, Fredrick Chopin and Oscar Wilde, and gave up the search for others because we were too mean to spend 2.50 Euro to buy a map. From a high point we could see the Eiffel Tower on the other side of central Paris.

We walked down to the Place de la Republic, had some crepes and coffee + hot chocolate. Then the train home - why don't we have trains half this good in Melbourne? There's not enough people buying local cars in Australia to keep General Motors running, so why don't the governments build railways and cut down on the balance of payments cash hemorrhaging out of the country to buy imported cars?

This evening we walked down town (down Maisons-Laffitte town) to look at the Christmas lights and have dinner.

I'll post some more photos very soon, even though they are getting out of synch with the blog.

Bridget's going into Paris tomorrow to see Amy who has been polishing her French at school in Belgium since the start of the year.

Wednesday 18th

We rose early, visited the Tourist Information Centre for directions, and then found the local market - Sharon's Pavlovian reflexes kicked in so Bridget and I kept a wary eye on purchases. Fortunately, Sharon didn't try to buy any of the offal that was on stomach-churning display, but I'm not sure what it is she bought, but time will tell.
We dropped the proceeds of the shopping expedition off at the apartment, and all 3 of us took the train into Gare de Lyon, where Bridget was to meet Amy and her sister out front. The station is a monster - all sorts of decorative plaster piled up an up to a huge indescribable mass of self-importance.
Bridget spotted Amy and her sister, and we were dismissed - good grief, our baby set loose in Paris!

We took the train back to the previous stop Chatelet Les Halles. We walked from their towards the river and detoured to the Louvre - I've spent many hours here musing on the huge queues waiting to get in - today the queues were shorter, but we had a different mission. We planned to visit Saint Chappelle which is very close to Notre Dame. It is closed between 1 and 2:15 and by chance we arrived at 1:00 p.m. There was a long queue, but they may have been trying to get into the Courts next door?
We proceeded along the street to our next destination - the first residence of the Kings of France - the Conciergerie. The stripped back Gothic grandeur of the largers rooms were marred by an exhibition to do with loss of freedom. There were images of prison cells, movies of gagged people trying to talk; a documentary about an Australian girl telling of her experiences in mental hospitals and of her belief that she was really a reincarnation of Jeanne d'Arc.
Almost as disturbing was a room representing an old people's home; it was populated by senile rulers in their wheel chairs which move at random from time to time. As I stepped out of their way, I had to resist the temptation to say "Pardon, monsieur."

Of the rest of the palace, a room represented the cell where Marie Antoinette spent her last days, there were photos of documents signed by powerful people, but not a great deal else.

We next went to Notre Dame Cathedral - I don't know why we didn't go back to Saint Chappelle. We've been inside Notre Dame on each previous visit, but Sharon said she was too cold and tired to climb to the higher parts which are the only parts I haven't visited. Sharon gave some money the the Little Sisters of the Poor who stood expectantly with baskets by the door. We walked up the street where we found something to eat on the run, and walked past the Centre Pompidou which I haven't seen before. It looks enormous.

Sharon and I are now back home, thawed, and awaiting Bridget's return.

There's some "optional details at the bottom of this blog - I filled it in yesterday; today is perhaps 8 degrees cooler, and while the sun has popped out a couple of times, it was only something to see, not something to feel.

Posted by LucyLucey 17:03 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

Paris

Continues on - following Montpellier

sunny 12 °C
View France + Belgium 2013-14 on LucyLucey's travel map.

OK,
It's too hard to squeeze everything in - I'll get back to the other adventures from Montpellier when/if time permits.

We're in Paris, the sun never gets over the yard arm - it doesn't even get half way up to the yard arm!
Yesterday we had a long train journey from the south to the north of France - I guess about 800 km at speeds up to about 250 km/hr. They are awesome trains, the poor old Spirit of Progress was never this good. Most of the way I read my Norton's Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2, so I'm very temporarily an expert on William Blake, Robbie Burns, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wordsworth - 194 pages of 2,543 pages read!

We are at Maisons-Laffitte - about 18 km from the centre of Paris. After the luxury of our last accommodation, we have to adapt to a small apartment on the first floor. M-L has a 2.2 km racecourse (the Hippodrome) - it's grass - all in a straight line; the longest in the world, and it runs along the banks of the Seine. None of this clock-wise vs anti-clockwise nonsense for them! There are other race tracks in town too, but the Hippodrome is its' most famous. Mercifully, the horses are spelled over winter.

Today we went to town - first stop: the Cimetiere de Pere Lachaise in the 20e Arrondissment (sorry, I don't know how to add accents, and fighting the American spell check is painful); we paid our respects to Jim Morrison, Fredrick Chopin and Oscar Wilde, and gave up the search for others because we were too mean to spend 2.50 Euro to buy a map. From a high point we could see the Eiffel Tower on the other side of central Paris.

We walked down to the Place de la Republic, had some crepes and coffee + hot chocolate. Then the train home - why don't we have trains half this good in Melbourne? There's not enough people buying local cars in Australia to keep General Motors running, so why don't the governments build railways and cut down on the balance of payments cash hemorrhaging out of the country to buy imported cars?

This evening we walked down town (down Maisons-Laffitte town) to look at the Christmas lights and have dinner.

I'll post some more photos very soon, even though they are getting out of synch with the blog.

Bridget's going into Paris tomorrow to see Amy who has been polishing her French at school in Belgium since the start of the year.

Posted by LucyLucey 21:58 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

France

Nimes

sunny 10 °C
View France + Belgium 2013-14 on LucyLucey's travel map.

We arrived at Charles de Gaule airport at 06:55 hours; we had a booking at midday for the train to Nimes, and as our plane landed on time (Singapore always does that) we had ages to wait for the train. Sharon negotiated our journey to the earlier train.
There were two trains shown as leaving from the same platform at the same time - one to Montpellier (via Nimes) and the other to Marseilles. That doesn't happen too often in Melbourne, so we kept an open mind about its significance.

When the train arrived, we looked for our carriage - 1st Class No 13; 1st class because we were tired and jet-lagged and all. Failing to find the carriage we headed for the only 1st Class carriages we had see - headed? No, we ran because there were all sorts of starting-up noises happening. Asking a railway employee, we were told, "No, you want the other train!" What we thought was one train was two trains - how could this be?

We ran as fast as our (my?) aging legs could go, dragging a suitcase, carrying more camera lenses than I could, plus kilograms of duty-free chocolate. I felt like telling them where to put their schizoid train and just sitting down for a while to catch my breath. But we fell into a compartment and slowly worked our way to the other end of this train and someone told us which were our seats. He also explained that at Lyon, the train would split in two, half going to Marseilles and this half to Montpellier.

I would have been happier if I'd known that earlier, but then, an early morning run is supposed to be good for you.

At the Gare de Nimes we alighted into cold fresh air - just like Melbourne in late autumn: blue sky, vaguely warm sunshine, leaves turning red and gold. It's a slight up hill climb to the centre of town following a modern water feature, and walking on a very roughly textured path. At the top of the climb is a large open space with a Ferris wheel and scenic railway standing in front of the old Roman Arena.
Next to the arena is a narrow street just beyond the Palace of Justice, and Hotel Amphitheater is in this street. There are no bright signs, and even when we asked where it was, no one knew; but eventually we found a small sign and went in. Our room was basic, but adequate.

Bridget phoned us with the time and place where we should meet next day - we hadn't seen her for 3 weeks, and that's the longest time she's been out of our sight, not to mention also being the furthest away from us, ever.

Exploring the streets of the old town all about us, we discovered the Christmas lights and amazingly beautiful shops where Sharon wanted to spend all our money, but we have 5 weeks to survive. We had dinner in a restaurant opposite the Arena (after tip-toeing around the celebrating soldiers with their efficient looking machine guns). Sharon discovered just how many varieties of Rose are made in the district - she's determined to try them all!

Next morning we went down to the station and found Bridget, her fellow travellers and their teachers. There were tears and hugs all round as the Princes Hill group waited for their train and we took Bridget back into town. We left her suitcase at our hotel and showed each other the parts of the town that we had discovered. Bridget showed us the Jardin de la Fontaine which we had missed; it is surrounded by classical revival sculptures that were gathered from an old Mansion, long demolished. We showed her some of the shops she hadn't seen.

All too soon, it was time to collect our luggage from the hotel and go back to the railway station to await our 2nd class train to Montpellier.

MONTPELLIER

Montpellier is bigger than Nimes; we had to catch a taxi from the railway station to the house where we were met by a friend of the owner; she showed us around and explained how to operate it. There's an above ground swimming pool, the house has two storeys and there's an attached granny-flat with a law student in occupation. The house is quite comfortable - although the Europeans do like to keep the heating cranked all the way up; we'll turn it down a bit.
I've belatedly realised that I need more time to do justice to this than I have time available. So I'll rush a bit in the hope of covering the main things and catch up with more recent times. My diary is getting behind too!

We met Bridget's fostering family from Nimes, but we were to tired and jet-lagged to try to be sociable when we were at Nimes, so we met up in Montpellier. The father Christian and mother Danielle were delightful people - they brought one daughter (who Bridget hadn't previously met), with them, plus a friend of that daughter, as well as their very shy youngest daughter. The two older girls spoke English + French, as did Bridget, but the rest of us could only converse in our native tongues.
It was hard work all round, but the effort these people put in to being helpful and friendly was extraordinary.

Another important outing was to suss out the violin scene. There are 11 different ateliers making and repairing violins in Montpellier; so this is currently the violin capitol of France. Bridget has been using the same violin for 5 or 6 years, and the instrument that seemed suitable then is not really suitable for the level at which she is playing now, and it seemed appropriate that we investigate a better instrument.
The first luthier we visited had only two old instruments for sale, or he could make a new instrument that would take time, money etc. He recommended another man who has a larger collection of old instruments for sale. We sent him a text message and visited him the following day.
His atelier is in a grand old mansion; you ring the door bell, someone inside releases the door lock and you enter; it is dark. By trial an error we found a passage that led to a huge grand marble stair case (still in the semi-dark) and we ascended as there were no doors on the ground floor.
At the first floor an understated sign next to a door bell confirmed that we were on the right track, so we entered and were met by a francophone girl who ran off to get the master. He was an unprepossessing slight middle aged man wearing jeans, and he asked us how he could help. We told him that Bridget had been playing for 8 or so years, and needed a new violin.
He asked what our budget was, we really had no idea; he suggested that something worthwhile could be had for 200 to 300 Euros, and started to tune instruments for Bridget to try. Bridget found that she like all bar one (it was based on an Amati design) but the price tags all read 5,000 to 7,000 Euros!
We told the man we would have to think about it. Later we decided that when he said 200, he must have meant 2,000, even though he never showed us anything so "cheap."
On top of the price of a violin, there is the case, and the bow (both expensive), and it doesn't fit the airlines carry-on luggage dimensions, and to air-freight it would require removing the strings, bridge, tail-piece and sound-post - and there would still be a risk of damage. We'll see what's available in Melbourne :)

Posted by LucyLucey 11:46 Archived in France Tagged nimes Comments (0)

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