Tears for Nice…

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In the photo book I made of our happy South of France sojourn in 2014, I called Nice my “happy place” (though in truth I should call France my happy place).

Currently though,  Nice is a very sad place -a beautiful, vibrant and soulful city , torn apart by the horrific actions of a single man. I heard about the “Bastille Day Massacre” while I was at work and was in total disbelief. Not again surely… but when I got home and saw the chilling footage I was reduced to tears – for Nice, its inhabitants and the visitors, who like me had gone there to enjoy carefree summer days, but who have now either lost their lives, or their loved ones or have been injured.

We will return to Nice in September, and will pay our respects on the beautiful Promenade des Anglais where so many lost their lives. Inevitably, those memories will be tinged with sadness….. below are some current memories of Nice which remain strong, and are permanent reminders of the city so full of vitality and colour, that it captured our hearts and made us want to return…

Postscript-  today I found myself repeating that awful phrase “not again!” because as I write this, the horror of the Munich attack is unfolding – tragic, just like the Nice attack and all the others that have gone before…..

On returning to Venice ….

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In early September we will return to Venice for another three days, staying at the same delightful hotel we chose last time, Ca’ Angeli, on the Grand Canal.  I like to research places on our route and how best to use our time, and as luck would have it, I came across a beautiful and informative blog, La Venessiana, which has utterly refuelled my desire to be back in the city that so captured my heart on our first visit …

The writer Iris, and her Venetian grandmother Lina have hit upon an enticing recipe for their blog, including good photography, food writing, and very useful local knowledge. The first post that caught my eye was something dear to my heart – early morning coffee, so I was delighted to get some ideas on where to go for a good coffee fix, featured in the post Nice, new and trendy cafes in Venice.

Having devoured the cafe post, I continued to delve into other posts, and came upon a link to a magical and mesmerising video of Venice (and in particular the Piazza San Marco). On our previous visit we had arisen at 7am on the second day, (as Rick Steves advised), having experienced the tourist crush in the Piazza the day before. In the watery morning sun, we wandered over the deserted Rialto Bridge and along several empty calli, until we reached the famous Piazza, and were amazed to see it was virtually empty. It was quite an uplifting experience, taking everything in at our own pace and not being swept along with a crowd.

The Venizavion video Iris refers to in her post shows the Square in a similar state, and with the clever drone photography it makes for stunning viewing. If you have a few spare minutes, take a look and let it wash over you – it is a treat. Even better, by serendipity, I found the Venizavion 2 video which has a beautiful soundtrack, including  Our Love is Easy , one of my favourite songs by the beautiful and talented Melody Gardot. As you can imagine, the goosebumps got bigger while I watched and listened.

It is people like Iris, Lina and the creator of the videos, Jean-Claude Julien who inspire when they take the time to share their knowledge and creative talents, and as a traveller I thank them for their generosity.

Regarding Venice in the morning, I can attest to the delight you experience if you get to the Piazza at 7am – see for yourself how good it can be not having to be part of the urgent hustle and bustle in the middle of the day – I can’t wait to be back there, just a little bit wiser, thanks to Iris, Lina and Jean-Claude ……

 

The Loire, Amboise, and some chateaux : reflections # 4

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Well, so much for diligently posting my reflections on our wonderful 2014 French sojourn … but better late than never perhaps. It is June 2016 and we have just completed our planning for the upcoming 2 month drive through Spain, France and Italy, so researching is keeping me busy, but finally my Loire review is complete.  Obviously some will disagree with my reaction but such is the nature of travel and personal responses to what we are privileged to see….

Looking back now, I think my own response to what we saw in the Loire region was coloured somewhat by the weather.  It was mostly inclement and dull during our time there and our accommodation was not quite as good as we had expected. The owner of our lodgings was delightful – hilarious and entertaining, but that didn’t make up for the leaky roof and the disparity between the two rooms each couple was assigned. Ours was spacious and well-appointed while the other was what our friends termed “coffin-like”!  Also, we didn’t have time see any of the other larger towns like Tours and Blois to compare them with Amboise. We did see some amazing sights and had a great time, with much laughter courtesy of our accommodation situation, yet I simply didn’t warm to the Loire like I did to the Dordogne and the Languedoc, both of which I loved.

What was missing? I do not know – the ambience of the area was prim and moody, and lacked the energy, colour and vibrancy that we saw in other French regions. We did, of course, visit some major attractions, and were duly blown away by their historical significance and the architecture – the two outstanding being Clos Lucé, the stunning home of Leonardo da Vinci for the final three years of his life, and the magnificent Chateau of Chenonceau. Clos Lucé was a real highlight for us all, and as we watched French school children swarm in to the place, it occurred to me how lucky they are to be able to live their history in such a wonderfully preserved site.

It is when I look at some of our photographs, that I realise we actually did rather a lot in three days, and on reflection, could not really do the area justice in that short time span, yet for me, in comparison to other places we stayed, the Loire fell a little flat.  Despite that, I am still delighted to have spent some time there, and I would like to return with enough time to explore more fully- in the meantime,  my photos continue to bring me great pleasure ….

 


  
  

À bientôt Paris…..

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I have been watching from afar, the responses to those frightening and deadly acts in  Paris – watching with respect, admiration, sympathy and most of all, with hope – hope that such acts do not dampen the spirit of the Parisian people. I need not have worried, because they have showed courage, unity and strength of spirit as they get on with life in the aftermath.

I like would to pay tribute here to the wonderful responses we have seen, and cite one that really moved me.  Hopefully the link to this response will remain as a perpetual reminder to me (and perhaps others) of how acts of terrorism do not necessarily dampen spirit, nor cause surrender – rather, the opposite occurs,  where people unite in a show of resolve, faith, dignity and fortitude.

The article that so resonated with me was this one on the BBC website  in which the last sentence speaks volumes –  a young emergency doctor Youri Yordanov, describes the horrific scene his department faced at the time of the attacks, but he also reports that on the following Monday, he and other colleagues met for a drink in an area where one of the shootings occurred, saying “That’s our answer. We are not going to change our lives.”

The most recent article I have I read contains an amalgamation of comments from readers of  Complete France, wherein they have published some moving tributes to Paris.

Sites like Bonjour Paris are providing really practical advice for intending travellers like me and my husband,  and as such should be promoted, for example,  this quite recent article, “Is it safe to be in  Paris?”

As I write this, we are in the throes of planning our trip to Paris next year. Hopefully, the lethal turmoil will have settled, and I will get to celebrate my 65th birthday in the City of Light, and relax again in the Jardin des Tuileries as I did in 2007 (below). We simply have to get on with our lives, just like Youri – so à bientôt Paris…..

 

Postscript: Bryan Pirolli, one of my favourite bloggers on Eurocheapo, has just posted 16 very good reasons to visit Paris in 2016. # 16 is outstanding. Check it out here.

Paris - relaxing by the Tuileries fountain

 

 

Kia Kaha Paris….

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Kia Kaha – it means “be strong” in the Maori language, it is an affirmation, a call to stand strong in the face of adversity. It conveys a sense of encouragement, so it seems appropriate to include it in a message of condolence to the people of Paris, and indeed France, and to those from all countries who have lost their loved ones after the horrific events of the past weekend.

It is hard to find the words to convey sympathy at any time,  let alone in circumstances like this. Suffice it to say, that Paris will remain my favourite city, other than my own home town of Auckland. Recent events will not quell my desire to return (in fact I will return to celebrate my 65th birthday there in August next year). Terrorism cannot be allowed to prevail. Paris, je t’aime…

Bonjour mes amis – I’m back…..

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Goodness, it has been rather a long time since I have added a post – there has been so much to do and many things preventing time on the computer – work and family mostly, but such is life. I have missed posting material, but today I came across a podcast which made me realise it was time to return – plus it was so pertinent to my last post in 2014 that I had to share it. My previous post was on Monet’s magnificent garden at Giverny – so hard to describe, so easy to fall in love with – but today this great podcast by my old favourite Rick Steves helped to elucidate my feelings on how the Garden impacted me.  He was in discussion with Elizabeth Murray, a gardener, writer and photographer, who had worked voluntarily in the garden for a year. The way she describes how the light and seasons change a person’s experience of the gardens is surely apt, and her conversation with a listener (Kristin), who had visited the gardens at the same time of year that we did, was amazing – she described so well what we had seen, confirming that each season is different but somehow obviously the same, year after year. Listening to Elizabeth Murray speaking about her own experience was fascinating and she has written a beautiful book called Monet’s Passion, which has excellent reviews, so it is looking like a must read for me and others fascinated by this iconic place….. wisteria by the Japanese bridge

French Reflections – #2 Monet’s Garden at Giverny …

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I had heard it said prior to seeing Monet’s Garden for myself, that some have found it a disappointment – that it looked uncared for and unloved. Well, I am not one of those who found it so. I loved it! In fact for all four of us, it was an absolute highlight. We left our Paris hotel early to avoid traffic, and within half an hour or so of picking up our car, we were there, ready for the opening at 9.30am.  The tourist buses had already arrived, but we easily found shaded (and free) parking – a boon since it was a beautiful sunny day. We took a short stroll along the pristine lanes in the sun while we waited, but were soon able to enter.

Personally, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had wanted to see the Gardens for so long, that I wondered if I might be disappointed. I needn’t have worried. Finding words to adequately describe this historic place is difficult – idyllic, charming, spectacular, beautiful, magical – it is all those things and much more. It may be that we had perfect weather in mid-May, and that there were so many flowers in bloom, but I have seen photos of the place in winter, after snow has fallen – a different light, different colours, but it still looks amazing.

I have to say from the outset, that I am no gardener – I am completely ignorant when it comes to planting and nurturing flowers and plants (though strangely they do seem to grow for me), but one of my great joys in life is appreciating the great beauty inherent in flowers and beautiful gardens.

My mother was a wonderful gardener and I so admired her for it – her garden gave her the most immense pleasure especially as she aged, and I loved watching her tend it. I like to believe that her love of beautiful gardens rubbed off on me, and as I wandered through Monet’s, I knew how much she would have loved it – I think that it is one reason that it was so special to be there.

We started by walking down through the top beds near Monet’s house, stopping along our way to take in the profusion of colours, in bed after bed – irises, roses, pansies and the like. These are not your traditional well-manicured gardens such as you find elsewhere in France – say around the Loire chateaux – but I am sure there is an absolute art in making these truly abundant flower beds seem as if they began casually flourishing, completely unaided… the gardeners who tend them must truly be artists themselves.

As you continue the walk towards the water garden, you must negotiate a rather quaint tunnel and then you are there – and it is spectacular. Despite the numerous others taking in the pond, it didn’t bother me as I was so absorbed in the beauty of my surroundings – it even seemed tranquil. At this time of the year, the azaleas, rhododendrons and wisteria were in bloom and oh so pretty. Having been there now, it is very easy to see why Monet took such inspiration for his painting here.

After a very special time wandering around the pond, which has quite a Japanese influence throughout (maples and bamboo flourish there), we made our way up to Monet’s authentically restored home. The ‘no photography’ rule is very firmly policed, but I will always vividly remember the rooms, – especially Monet’s bedroom with its view out over the garden, the yellow dining room, and wonderful blue and white tiled kitchen with its collection of copper utensils. Being in the house was like going back in time, comparable for me with Clos-Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life, and also the stunning Rothschild villa.

Below I share some of the photos I took – one of the most appealing photos was the old boat under the trees – and the other favourite is of my friend Frances (for whom this visit was an absolute highlight), enjoying the peonies- two memorable moments from a special morning, shared with great friends, in a perfect garden.

French reflections – #1 Paris

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As I write this, one of my close friends will be leaving Paris after her first ever visit. As a vicarious Parisienne, I think I probably banged on to her about it rather a lot, and I was desperately hoping she wouldn’t be disappointed – thankfully, yesterday I discovered she is not – a “Paris convert” is how she described herself, with her and her husband loving it. She found it beautiful and “drenched in history” – perfect descriptions I would say. Her being there has encouraged me to complete my reflections on our recent time there, and to include few suggestions for first time visitors – not that I am an expert of course, these are simply observations based on my own experience.

Paris – where do I start?  It has heart, soul, culture and history – not to mention great cuisine and fabulous shopping…. What more could you want? I had a bucket list for Paris which I prioritised, and I ticked most items off. If you have seen my posts about our four full days in the City of Light you would know we crammed in an awful lot – fabulous Versailles, The Louvre, Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop, The Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides, Sacre Coeur, Sainte-Chapelle, historic Notre Dame, Ile Saint-Louis, The Pompidou Centre, The Conciergerie, Les Tuileries, Le Jardin de Luxembourg, Place des Vosges, and walking, walking, walking for miles, to simply absorb that infectious Parisian vibe.

There was no way to add anymore in our four days – it was just not realistic– so what did I miss? Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise, Rue des Abbesses, Clignancourt Flea Market, Galerie Vivienne, a visit to Laduree , Opera Garnier, and visits to the roof top of Printemps and La Tour Montparnasse to simply to see the view… these all seem like things that will be great to do at my leisure, in the future, rather than at the fairly hectic pace we took on this visit. I certainly am not disappointed that I still have a Paris “to do” list, because what we did was so fulfilling, so utterly intoxicating, that “je ne regrette rien” as they say – and besides, it is a good excuse to return in a couple of years.

If you are a first time visitor, I suggest leave being indoors for another visit (if the weather allows) – take a hop-on hop-off bus to orient yourself, and walk as much as you can. Perhaps choose one museum and check it out thoroughly – my pick would be the Musee D’Orsay. It was the only Museum we went to on our first visit, preferring as we did to walk and soak up the atmosphere – and it remains my favourite. However, this time round, we found that getting out early to tourist attractions like the Louvre, Versailles etc.,  allows you to join a shorter queue – but you have to be prepared to make the early start. It fits in with the French life style well to do this, as then you can take a long break in the middle of the day like the locals do. We loved getting out around 7am, and walking the almost empty streets looking for a nice café for coffee and croissant, omelette or pancake. It amazed us that the streets could be so empty at that time of day. Not only that, the early morning light is truly beautiful, and is the Parisian dusk. .

And my personal favourites from those iconic tourist attractions we visited this time?  Napoleon’s Apartments in the Louvre (literally stunning!); climbing to the first level of the Eiffel Tower – that’s plenty high enough in my opinion to get your view and move on to another attraction if you are short of time, plus it is a great way to escape the long queue for lifts; picnicking in the beautiful Jardin Du Luxembourg (Theadora made me do it and she was right), and watching the stylish locals take their Sunday stroll in the park; viewing the exquisite stained glass windows in Sainte-Chapelle; taking in the magnificent Notre Dame ; strolling through Ile Saint Louis at dusk; watching the Parisian sunset from any of the bridges spanning the Seine; exploring the Latin Quarter and enjoying ethnic food choices.

It would be remiss of me not to mention how we got to Paris – we chose Eurostar and it is lovely way to travel and arrive – it feels much more relaxed to me – probably because I hate flying – and there is something special about train travel – we even got pensioner rates (60 years and over), so it was extremely affordable! What’s not to like?

My final reflections? Paris for me is an enchanting city – it is absolute magic. I feel so drawn to it – to the architecture, the history, the people, the vibe – to everything about it – it is hard to explain, but all I can say is that I will be back for more. There is so much to see and do, that short visits will probably never allow you to do everything you may want to do – but I figure this – do not lament what you did not see – simply remember and savour what you did see, and enjoy the precious memories you have will surely have etched in your heart and mind …

Here are some of my favourite places from our recent visit.

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France and film…. and honouring casualties of war…

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Lately I have been reviewing my blog and drafting reflective posts on what I can only describe as our recent great adventure. I took over 4000 photos which I have trawling been though, deleting the not so good, and enjoying those which remain to tell the story. I am compiling a photo book too, which is time-consuming (hence the lack of posts since our return), but the book will be a fabulous reminder of four very special weeks in France. I have also started creating an album on Pinterest celebrating the humble door – which I have found not to be so humble in France and Italy (and even the UK) – rather they tend to scream – “look at me” – and I did – I have the photos to prove it!

Meanwhile I continue to yearn for France as I endure our cold and wet winter (which is thankfully coming to an end), and have recently fed my longing by attending a couple of excellent French films showing at the Auckland Film Festival. It was wonderful to be listening to the language again, and to vicariously revisit places I had not long since seen – the bonus was that both were to do with fashion, which I love to follow.

 

Frédéric Tcheng’s Dior and I, is a fascinating glimpse at the birth of a collection (Raf Simons’ first at the House of Dior). The Sterling Ruby-inspired fabrics he had created for some of the garments in the collection were truly beautiful, and his use of exquisite flower installations (inspired by Jeff Koons’ Puppy) in the magnificent mansion where he presented his first collection, was inspired. Not only that, the opportunity to see an atelier at work, in the hands of the two premières, and the development of their relationship with the new creative director, was insightful. The film absolutely indulged my love of France, fashion and flowers – what more could I want. You can see comment regarding Simon’s first show here.

Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent film provides an illuminating view of the life and times of coutourier Yves Saint Laurent. Sanctioned by Saint Laurent’s long- time partner Pierre Bergé, the film felt very real – Pierre Niney is brilliant as the troubled designer, presenting the flawed genius of the man, quite authentically I believe. I certainly learned a lot more about Saint Laurent, and influential people in his life, Bergé, Loulou de la Falaiase and the stunning Betty Catroux.  The authenticity is further supported by the use of actual YSL garments and 1976 Russian Ballet and Opera collection is exquisite. The film provided me with a much desired Parisian fix and I was delighted that I recognised streets and places we had wandered along just a few weeks ago.

The most recent French film I have seen is Claude Berri’s Lucie Aubrac. The film was in French and without subtitles, but I was able to understand the plot and even some of the conversation, thought the speech was very fast.  The film was quite gripping and I asked my French tutor Marie, about the significance of Lucie Aubrac in French history. Lucie was a Resistance heroine and she is greatly revered. I have since discovered the film was based on her memoir Ils partiront dans L’ivresse: Lyon, Mai 43, Londres,  Février 44. There is an English language edition available too with the title Outwitting the Gestapo,  which is a must read for me now.

One of the things I noticed whilst in France, particularly in the South, was the extent to which those who fought in the wars are honoured and respected – every little town had a memorial to those who perished – it was very moving – as was the film itself. It brought back memories of our recent visit to Oradour-sur-Glane, the village which was decimated by the Nazis in 1944. The untouched ruins remain a chilling and poignant memorial to those who died, and I will carry the images of those ruins in my mind forever.

It is fairly obvious that France is in my blood, under my skin, in my mind – its pull is powerful, enticing, enchanting, and it is calling me back. This was made more obvious to me last weekend, as I watched the delightful movie The Hundred Foot Journey – set in southern France, and starring Helen Mirren, I was completely unprepared for the depth of emotion it evoked in me as I looked at the beautiful town of St Antonin-Noble-Val – the colourful market, the people, narrow streets lined with beautiful old buildings. Suddenly my eyes welled up with tears – confirming to me that I should just be there…. 2016 can’t come soon enough!

An aside – The delightful Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon appears in both the Yves Saint Laurent movie and The Hundred Foot Journey – she beautiful and a delight to watch.

 

Meanwhile – pictorial evidence of those monuments to those who perished in in the first and second World Wars:

 

 

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