Sunday, July 10, 2005

PARIS Day06//13.Nov.04 - A Bientôt!: Paris - KL

Today being the day S and I were supposed to catch the flight that will remove us from all things French and Parisian, there was nothing else that we had scheduled on our itinerary save that 9am train that we had to catch from Montparnasse to Charles de Gaulle Aeroport.
Before we bid goodbye to Montparnasse, S and I made one last stop at a nearby boulangerie and I ordered 1 brioche raisin for S and 1 pain au lait for myself. Our carbo-loaded breakfast may have provided enough sugar for that morning, but instead, it was that (all too familiar) bittersweet feeling that was coursing through me whenever parting and departure looms in the horizon. As the train hurtled towards the airport, both S and I were quietly reflective. I believe we were both already reminiscing, rather, clinging to the immediate past.
Mementos are objects that serves as reminders of past events. One such memento that we nearly lose was S's Carte Orange* ticket. Upon alighting the train station at the airport. S used his ticket one last time, and was visibly dismayed when the ticket reader/machine at the turnstile did not spit out his ticket. Nevermind that we were on a tight schedule and had a bus and aeroplane to catch, S was steely determined to retrieve it despite that it no longer served any functional purpose. S set me to govern the bags and I watched anxiously as he tried to catch the attention of the attendant. This effort was not without drama as there was initially no one to be found at the booth, and when the personnel made an appearance, he attended to another passenger's dilemma first. Finally when S was able to seize his attention, he was brought to the turnstiles. And for a while, uncertainty and hesitation reigned, as we tried to figure out which turnstile S passed through. We identified one (or two?) turnstile(s) and the attendant unlocked and opened the turnstile(s) and let S rummaged through it. Imagine my relief and our jubiliation when S finally managed to pick out his ticket!
May he have not been able to find it, I would have tried consoling him with that fact that aside from the ticket, we have our experiences captured by hundreds of photo, and more significantly, through our memories, that are of sentimental value of the times spent during this lovely Parisian trip.

* Read about how we got our Carte Orange on PARIS Day01//08.Nov.04 - Bonjour Paris!: Montparnasse & Luxembourg Qtr - CC

Sunday, May 08, 2005

PARIS Day05//12.Nov.04 - Chateau & Butte: Versailles + La Defense + Montmarte

Louis XIV
Treaty of Versailles^
Victor (S's first name)

No, it's not the letter "V". All of the above had seen light in the Palace of Versailles. And how it (the light) gave the golden inlay and filigree, abundant in the gilded halls of Versailles, its warm hue. How it teased and played with the crystal facets of the chandeliers until they sparkled brightly. But mostly, how it reflected resplendently the majesty of the Hall of Mirrors.^^
S and my reflection from the mirrors showed us wearing headsets while holding on to the portable player. We had earlier decided to take the audio-guided tour, and for €12 each we had access to all the major tourist attractions in the château through Porte C. Porte C was a portal that brought us back to the 17th-18th century lifestyle of the French royalty. Our tour had us moving from the public Grands Appartements to the private Petits Appartements that were clearly marked with numbers which corresponded with the narratives recorded in the player. It was my first time experiencing an audio-guided tour and I rather enjoyed the flexibility of the self-paced tour and self-prompted narration. Having completed our education in Louis XIV's royal indulgences, S and I deposited our audio units at the exit without much pomp and pageantary. However, His Highness' royal fancies extended to the landscape beyond the palace's walls. The natural surroundings were made less natural with the introduction of symmetrical formal gardens marked by neatly trimmed hedges, ponds, and fountains. As a tribute to the Sun King^^^, S and I took advantage of the sunny weather to capture all that admist the sapphire blue sky.

Paris - collage_Versailles

We left the classical Versailles for the modern La Defense while the noon sun was still high in the sky. At the business district around La Defense, we had a simple lunch of baguette sandwiches before approaching the monument itself. Just as simple, with clean straight lines, the monument was nonetheless imposing because of its sheer size and height. So tall was it, that it took us numerous tries to capture the monument in its entirety.* Although we did not go up 35 levels to the observation platform at the top of the building, there was one more height that we had to scale in our last (touring) day in France before we bid au revoir to Paris.

Paris - collage_La Defense

S and CC went up the hill... or butte, as they call it here in France. Actually, it was S, CC and train-loads of other tourists. Arts and commerce thrives happily on the slopes of the butte with the influx of these tourists. Banking on Montmartre honky-tonk reputation and as an artists enclave, souvenir shops here peddle just about anything, from fridge magnets to French berets. As it was our last tourist stop, S and I ducked in and out of these shops as we slowly progressed up the hill. Just about midway up the hill, we took a funicular ride to the top of Montmartre where the Sacre Coeur church was. Material souvenirs aside, S and I were definitely bringing home (the more precious) mental images of the evening sun slowly setting across the City of Light. It was a painter's dream, no wonder so many of them made Montmartre their home, and Place du Tertre, their area of business. The small square of Place du Tertre was chockful of easels, paintings, artists, and tourists. Tourist that I am, I went from one display to another, intent on finding paintings of Paris that I could bring home to frame. Ironically, in the end I was won over by colourful watercolour paintings by a Hong Kong artist, who I bargained with in Cantonese! While this was not exactly a typical French experience, there was one which we had missed out on, which was to have our portraits drawn together by an artist in Place du Tertre. S and I agreed that we will do just that during our future visit to Paris, I'll even make sure that its a bonafide Frenchman!

Paris - Montmartre

With my watercolours in a plastic bag in one hand, and the other hand clasped around S's, I was happy to start going downhill. We made one last photo stop at the Moulin Rouge to take photos of the infamous windmill rotating behind us. It was however, hunger and tiredness that helped propel us back to Montparnasse, where we had our final French dinner. I made it a point to have a typical French fare.. Salade Nicoise! While the monsieur of my vie** had Croque Monsieur.***

Paris - collage_Montmartre2

^The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 is the peace treaty created as a result of six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 which put an official end to World War I between the Allies and Central Powers. -
^^The most famous room at Versailles is the 71m-long (233 ft.) Hall of Mirrors, built to link the north and south appartements (apartments). Begun in 1678 by Mansart in the Louis XIV style, it was decorated by Le Brun and his team with 17 large arched windows matched by corresponding beveled mirrors in simulated arcades, plus amazing chandeliers and gilded lamp bearers. The vaulted ceiling is covered with paintings in classic allegorical style depicting key episodes (some of them lavishly embellished) from the life and career of Louis XIV. On June 28, 1919, the treaty ending World War I was signed in this corridor. Ironically, the German Empire was also proclaimed here in 1871. - Frommer's
^^^ Louis XIV, known as The Sun King (French: Le Roi Soleil) and as Louis the Great (French: Louis le Grand), ruled France for seventy-two years — a longer reign than any other French or other "major" European monarch. -

*You'll notice nets rigged along the Grande Arche. When pieces of Mitterrand's grand projet started falling to the ground, they were erected to catch the falling fragments. - Frommer's
** Happy VIIII Month Anniversary to the man of my life. Je t'aime!
*** The croque-monsieur, a hot ham and cheese sandwich served in the bistros and cafés of Paris. -

Saturday, February 26, 2005

PARIS Day04//11.Nov.04 - In Love & War: The Marais + Beaubourg & Les Halles + Ile de la Cité + Ile St. Louis

France observes November 11th - Armistice Day, as a public holiday where recognition is given to fallen World War soldiers. Like the French, we took today slightly easier after yesterday's hectic schedule. There were no more museums or monuments to visit. So, instead of waiting patiently behind ticket queues, our feet traversed the lovely neighbourhoods of the 3rd and 4th arrondissement.

We started our fourth day at Le Marais which is located in the 3rd arrondissement. For such a lovely neighbourhood, it's ironic that the name "Marais" is derived from the word "marsh", which hardly conjures images of quaint streets, charming squares or aristocratic town houses. However, due to the neighbourhood's proximity to the Seine River, it makes geological, and etymological sense according to the definition by Cambridge:

marsh [noun] ground near a lake, river or the sea, that tends to flood and is always wet:At the mouth of the river is a large area of marsh.
Historically, Marais was mired* in decades of decay before it effervesce** into a lively neighbourhood that's full of character. Marais has over the years gain a reputation of being Paris' gay neighbourhood and Jewish quarter. This marriage of orthodox and avant garde lifestyles seems to coexist peacefully as S and I made our way through le Marais. It was here where I saw Parisians walking around with baguettes*** bought fresh from the boulangerie (bakery). I don't know why, but I found such delight in witnessing that stereotype brought to life.

S and I walked towards the Place des Vosges^, where, aside from being one of Paris' oldest squares, it was also where Victor Hugo once lived and wrote most of Les Miserables. Victor Hugo's house was marked with France's tri-coloured flag and is located in a corner of the square. Centred in the square was yet another garden. Less formal, but providing a nice contrast to the stately and symmetrical buildings that surround it. As S and I crossed the garden, we watched with amusement at parents minding their enfants who were running around the garden with unreserved juvenile joy.

Paris - collage_Marais

Our less limber footsteps eventually brought us to Beaubourg and Les Halles area. Whereas, Marais was quieter and dated, Beaubourg and Les Halles was without doubt, rowdier and crowded. Admist all that, the Pompidou Centre stood out easily with its unique architecture. Pipes of blue (air-cond ducts), green (water pipes), yellow (electricity lines), red (escalators), and white (ventilation shafts) delineated this box-y looking building of modern art. Despite the public holiday, the Musee National d'Art Moderne within was opened to the public and did not lack visitors whom were noticeable through the see-through escalator shafts.

Paris - collage_Beauborg

Having been unable to appreciate contemporary/modern art in my previous experience at Barcelona, we gave the Pompidou Centre a miss and were content to just taking photos of the building and the bizarre looking fountains at Place Igor Stravinsky. From surrealistic 1980s fountains we passed the last Renaissance fountain in Paris - Fontaine des Innocents, as we walked down the crowded main streets of Beabourg. Along the way, we brought our lunch from a crepe/kebab food stand next to the busy street. By the time we've reached the end of the street and arrived at Forum des Halles, I've already finished munching on my crepe au compote pomme (apple compote crepe). Forum des Halles had a somewhat futuristic look with its underground levels and palm-shaped buildings. Inside, it contains present day shops although S and I did encounter our first remotely controlled public toilettes! Here, in order to access the toilets, the toilet custodian must first be paid before he points the remote at the elevator-like entrance and voila! Open sesame! We did not want to spend too much time at Les Halles as the areas surrounding it was rather seedy-looking with shops of questionable character. Hence, we took the conveniently located Metro within Forum des Halles to a more quintessentially Parisian area of Ile de la Cité.

Paris - collage_Les Halles

Being a tiny island, there is only one Metro stop in Ile de la Cité. Nevertheless, as the cradle of Parisian civilization, the size of the island did not constrain the religious and political architectures that dominated our views on that Thursday afternoon. It was particularly cold that day, with our hands firmly clasped, we huddled passed the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle^^. Both buildings are noted for different reasons. Palais de Justice for its towers and immense breadth that stretches the entire width of Ile de la Cité; Sainte-Chapelle for its magnificent stained-glass windows, resplendent when the sun shines bright, which on this day it did not. Based on the 3 star rating from Frommers, I had originally planned to enter the cathedral, however with the lack of sunshine and the long queue snaking into the entrance, we agreed to give this cathedral a miss.

Paris - collage_Palais Justice

What couldn't be missed however was the Notre-Dame. As the embodiment of Gothic architecture, it proudly displays its flying buttresses, gargoyles and spiring towers. Notre-Dame was a hive of activity that day as a special mass was held in conjuction with Armistic Day. On this rare occassion, we saw flags from various nations lending colour within the gloomy interior of Notre-Dame. Normally, the only other source of bright colours would have been from the stained-glass 'rose' windows. While on our way out, S took a photo of the colourful 13m South Rose Window.

Paris - collage_Notre-Dame

With every step towards Ile St. Louis, the tolling of Notre-Dame's bells faded into the distant. The island of Ile St. Louis is smaller and linked to Ile de la Cité by Pont St. Louis. Crossing Pont St. Louis, we were afforded with picturesque views of elegant 17th century residences. These mansions of iron-wroughted balconies were once inhabited by lords and financiers, now however, you will more likely to find the nouveau riche****. S and I spent a blissful late afternoon walking round this stately neighbourhood and having our romantic stroll by the banks of the Seine river. We spent some quiet minutes resting on a bench by Seine river before continuing with the guidebook's suggested route. Our walk brought us to Ile St. Louis' main street i.e. Rue St. Louis. Here, we came across numerous quaint and quirky shops, French provincial restaurants and the famous Berthillon ice-cream flagship shop. We have been recommended by a friend to try Paris' best ice-cream, but being such a cold day, we decided to save it for our next trip.

Paris - collage_Ile St. Louis

Having spent the entire day covering the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, we decided to head back to our hotel for some rest before our Seine river cruise that night. Our rest was much needed as it had helped recharged us enough to run towards the dock near Pont de l'Alma before our barge departs at 9pm. We had a choice between the uncovered upper deck or the covered lower deck. As the upper deck afforded a better view, we decided to brave the cold night air. It was a one-hour slow cruise pass Paris' famous landmarks, and loops around the two islands of Ile de la Cité and Ile St. Louis. With all the buildings and monuments beautifully illuminated, the chilly winds and frozen ears were well worth it. By the end of the cruise, the cold has helped fuel our hunger and we propelled towards a restaurant in Marais that was recommended by a friend. Thankfully, it didn't take too long for us to locate Le Coude Fou and to get a table. The restaurant had a laidback and cosy setting. So near was our neighbour that he offered to help us out with the French-only menu. Our dinner companion turns out to be a fascinating Dutch personality who was once a plastic surgeon with a penchant for antiques and had moved to France for his retirement. S and I were thankful for his acquired French because the duck S chose and the fish I had were simply delicious. Warmed by good food, French red wine, and pleasant company, we made our way back to the hotel that night without much ado.

Paris - collage_4th night

* 1 : wet spongy earth (as of a bog or marsh); 2 : heavy often deep mud or slush 3 : a troublesome or intractable situation - Merriam-Webster
** 1 : to bubble, hiss, and foam as gas escapes; 2 : to show liveliness or exhilaration - Merriam-Webster
*** baguette: Is French for a "rod," "wand," or "stick." Baguette is the name for anything long and skinny, including drum sticks, strips of wood, etc. The baguette is generally known as a French white bread due to its popularity in that country. Baguettes are formed into a long, narrow, cylindrical loaf. It usually has a thin, crisp brown crust and a open-holed, chewy interior. History - The shape for which it is famous was developed by an Austrian baker and brought to France in the middle of the nineteenth century. At first French bread was all shaped round, but when bakers realized that their crusts were so tasty, they gave the bread more crust by making them long. -
****Etymology: French, literally, new rich - Merriam-Webster

^ Its history goes back to 1604 when King Henri IV built a Royal pavilion at the southern end of the square. The King ordered all 35 other buildings bordering the square to follow the same design. The result, an early example of urban planning, is a symmetrical square surrounded by buildings with red brick and white stone facades, steep slate roofs and dorm windows, all constructed over arcades. -
^^ Countless writers have called this tiny chapel a jewel box. Yet that hardly suffices. Nor will it do to call it "a light show." Go when the sun is shining and you'll need no one else's words to describe the remarkable effects of natural light on Sainte-Chapelle. Begun in 1246, the bi-level chapel was built to house relics of the True Cross, including the Crown of Thorns acquired by St. Louis (the Crusader king, Louis IX) from the emperor of Constantinople. - Frommer's

Sunday, January 09, 2005

PARIS Day03//10.Nov.04 - Of Arc & Art: Chaillot Qtr + Champs-Elysees + Tuilleries Qtr + Opera Qtr

I woke up on the left bank of the Seine, but spent the rest of my day traipsing on the right bank. My first two days on the rive gauche (left bank) had left me charmed by its quintessentially French trappings, the sidewalk-facing cafés, the parade of pâtisserie shops, a fromage-filled marché & etc.

In comparison, the right bank or rive droite, had awed me with its scale and grandeur. Our first stop of the day was already a demonstration of such. The main architectural piece at the Chaillot Quarter is the Palais de Chaillot, which was built for the 1937 World Fair. It is therefore with little wonder that this building was built to impress and to afford visitors with a spectacular view of France's signature - the Eiffel Tower. With such line of sight, S got busy with the tripod and soon we were posing as still as the golden statues that lined the entire breadth of Palais de Chaillot massive curved wings. Palais de Chaillot has the scale to house not one, but three specialist museums*, a film institute (Cinematheque Francaise) and a theater.

We took to walking around its garden, Jardins du Trocadero, which had the Trocadero fountains that normally would have display jets of shooting water. Nevertheless, without having seen the water cannons in action, we shot off to our next tourist attraction, conscious of the many interests in store for the day.

Paris - collage_Chaillot Qtr

Our trip to Paris would have been incomplete without a visit to this monumental interest - the Arc de Triomphe^. This commanding monument looms over the busy traffic of the l'Etoile^^ (the Star). Paris' commendable Metro and underground system again came to the rescue as S and I did not have to do the pas de bourrée couru** getting to the Arc given the underpass that led us directly to the monument. As we wanted to go up the Arc, we had to buy tickets*** from the ticket office, which was still close at that time (~9am-ish). S and I took the opportunity to cross to the other side of the avenue to capture Arc-framed potraits of each other. Back at the Arc, we craned our necks admiring its many relief.****

Paris - collage_Arc_01

At 10am, we bought our tickets and ascended the many many winding steps that would lead us to an exhibition hall on the top floor, which allowed us to catch our breaths. On exhibit were black & white historical/war-themed photographs and a guest book, where I inked my promise to Paris to return in 2012. We continued upwards to the viewing platform on the rooftop of the Arc, despite the short flight of stairs this time, my breath was taken away again by the sight that greeted me. From the rooftop I was able to appreciate Paris' tribute to parallelism and symmetry. Much has been written on how aesthetically pleasing symmetry is to the human eye, and the impressive lineup of the Eiffel, Arc de Triomphe and La Defense was a result of Paris' city planners' play on proportion and pattern. With a 360 degree view of Paris, S and I spent some time matching the points of interest in the horizon to the ones found on the tourist board on the rooftop.

Paris - collage_Arc_02

While at the Arc, I had realised that I was missing one half of my warm woolen glove and had hoped that I would find it on the way down. We had backtracked all the way to the ticket office and yet, there was no sight of my adventurous glove. S refused to give up and despite not knowing French, managed to inform the ticket lady of our situation. Without further ado, ticket lady made a call and then instructed us to go to the entrance of the Arc, where another call was made by the guard. We were then informed to proceed to the elevator entrance and few minutes later the elevator door opened and we were ushered into the lift. The lift brought us right up to the exhibition hall, as the door of the elevator opened, I was greeted by the sight of a man holding my missing glove! Noticing its other half with me, he promptly passed my glove back to me. By then, I was completely bowled over at how helpful each and everyone of them has been. Since my command of French was not sufficient to express my gratitude, I resorted to at least expressing my appreciation to la Arc by commenting that it's "C'est magnifique!". I was glad to see that he was pleased by that remark and proceeded to speak French with me. Thankfully, amidst the foreign words I caught the word "chin" and confirmed with enthusiastic "oui's" that I am indeed Chinese.

Delighted with the free elevator ride, and with both my gloves tucked securely into my pockets, S and I linked arms and wandered down Champs-Elysées. In one of the world's most famous avenue, stores are grander and the brand names renowned. Lured by Peugeot's display of a concept car, S and I wandered into the French marque's showroom, which was more of a lifestyle store. There were even rows of pepper grinders of all sizes. If not for the prohibitive prices, I would have love to buy a gigantic one for mom. Although she may not have gotten any pepper grinder, Mom had already placed an order for me to procure a Louis Vuitton bag. Therefore as we continued our way down Champs-Elysées, I kept an eye out for the LV store. Before long, I spotted the infamous LV trunks that masked the construction that was on-going at their flagship store. Admist the Murakami and Damier prints on the trunks were directions to the temporary store that LV operated from. Upon entering the store, I understood how it was possible for LV to undertake such a massive renovation and relocation. The store was a hive of activity with sales assistants catering to the mostly oriental customers. Admist the collection of Monogram's and Damier's, I spotted the handbag that mom wanted. A quick Euro -> Ringgit conversion explained the number of fellow Asian clientele and the proliferation of LV syndicates.***** I had no problems procuring the bag, instead I had issues with the lady that was serving me. Her service was the only time I experienced French snobbery.

Paris - collage_Champs_01

Leaving haute couture (and hauteur) behind us, S and I explore the high streets of Paris, which rather surprisingly, were named after American and British leaders (i.e. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Churchill). There, we came across the Grand Palais^^^ and Petit Palais. Both buildings were built in 1900 for the World Fair and are chiefly used for hosting various exhibitions. True to its function, the Grand Palais was having a 'Whistler, Turner, Monet' art exhibit that day with queues of visitors waiting to enter this distinctive glass-roofed building. This building's Romanesque stone facade is decorated with many classical statues and we saw this theme recurring nearby at Pont Alexander. Resplendent with golden winged horses, nymphs and Art Nouveau lamps, Pont Alexander is probably Paris' most decorative bridge.

Paris - collage_Champs_02

After our jaunt at Champs-Elysées, we made a pit-stop at our hotel to safe-keep mom's bag before proceeding to our next destination, the Tuileries Quarter.

We started from Place de la Concorde, notable for its bloody history being once the venue of beheadings during the French revolution. In the centre of the plaza, S and I craned our necks upwards at the 23m high Obelisk of Luxor^^^^ that now occupies the spot where many had felt the cold blade of the guillotine on their necks! This monolith was not alone in its stature as directly in its line-of-sight was the Arc de Triomphe. Having spent time capturing images of man's rather testosterone (and phallic!) architectural showpieces, S and I walked over to the nearby Jardin des Tuilleries, which was full of contrasts with its opportunities for gentler pursuits. S and I took a romantic stroll through the leave-strewn garden, passing by a large fountain where we watch with amusement at a dog being forced into the cold waters by its owner. Scattered around the fountain were dark green wrought iron garden chairs, which I imagine would have been highly sought after during the spring/summer months.

Paris - collage_Tulleries_01

Our short ramble in the park ended with us exiting into the heart of the Tuileries Quarter. Using the gilded Joan of Arc statue at Place des Pyramids as our marker, we walked past elegant belle epoque****** hotels, a funky Metro station before ending up in the serene compounds of the Palais Royal. Bordered by classical buildings, the courtyard was a cheeky display of modernity with its 1980s black & white stone columns of unequal heights. After S and I had our fun with the columns, we let ourselves out of the courtyard into a small, yet symmetrically elegant plot of garden that would be the Jardin du Palais Royal. Thankfully, we had little grounds to cover here as next up, we had the expansive Louvre awaiting our wearied little feet.

Paris - collage_Tuilleries_02

We were first confronted by I.M. Pei's glass pyramid entrance. With the French palais in the background, it was yet another confluence of old and new. Once passed the modern entryway, we embarked on our blast to the past, which I admit is more than just metaphorically speaking. Art dilettante that we are, we were guilty of doing what some termed as the 'Louvre Express'. Map in hand, our first target was the Mona Lisa. Much has been written about her magnetic smile, which judging by the crowd was still exerting its pull after centuries. Maybe she's smiling with amusement at S and I, who had to take close to half a dozen photos of her before we could get one that looked halfway decent.

It was easy to tick Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of the list of must-see's. A bigger than average crowd in the Louvre is always a good indication of where the signature pieces are located. In between these famous artworks, we tried to take in as much Renaissance, Greek and Egyptian art as we possibly could. By around 7pm however, the only oil that S and I were craving for was edible oil. We exited the pyramid, which by then was all lit up and glowing in the evening sky. S, being an admirer of night scenes wanted to return to Place de la Concorde, where we were able to capture both the illuminated obelisk and Eiffel in a single shot.

Paris - collage_Louvre

From the metro at Place de la Concorde, we took a one-stop ride to Metro Madeline where we were deposited next to the La Madeline church in the Opera Quarter. Nearby, I gaped in wonderment at the temple of gourmet food i.e. Fauchon. Here, worshippers of fine food can reverently select from sea salts harvested from different coasts of the world to 25-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Those with a sweet tooth would be able to get their high from the range of delectable chocolate, sweets and biscuits. Though sorely tempted to buy some Fauchon chocolates for mom and dad that night, I decided to hold off the purchase.

Paris - collage_Fauchon

We continued our little walk in the Opera Quarter which included the quaint cobblestoned Rue Eduard VII. Perhaps representative of the society that patronises the Opera in the late 19th, the apartments here had a distinctively smarter air. Before long, we came upon the very building this neighbourhood was named after. The Opera de Paris Garnier, with its gilded statues and Baroque relief was an imposing-looking building. After taking a picture of this building, S and I popped into the metro station nearby and headed back to Montparnasse for dinner.

Paris - collage_Opera Qtr

Tried as we could in Montparnasse, we couldn't find a French restaurant that seemed right. Tired and hungry, we decided to do the unthinkable and went into an Italian restaurant, where we had pizza and pasta. The waiter was friendly and had urged us to try their tiramisu, which he proclaimed was the best in Paris. Although I was very full by then, I couldn't resist, and true enough, the tiramisu was the best I have ever had! It ended what could probably be our busiest day in Paris, wonderfully.

Paris - Tiramisu

^ Commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate the victories of his Grand Armée, it is the biggest triumphal arch in the world, about 49m (161 ft.) high and 44m (144 ft.) wide. - Frommer's
^^ Baron Haussmann created a star of 12 broad avenues around the Arc de Triomphe. - DK Eyewitness
^^^ With its 240 metre-long façade, the Grand Palais is used for various exhibitions. Part of the building is the permanent site of the Palais de la Decouverte where recent scientific discoveries, interactive exhibits, some very good temporary exhibitions and a planetarium are displayed. -
^^^^ In the center of the plaza is the Obelisk of Luxor, a pink granite monolith 23 m (73 tt) high and weighing 220 tons. It is 3,300 years old and decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaon Ramses II. The obelisk was presented as a gift to Charles X by the Egyptian viceroy Méhémet Ali in 1829. The monument was installed here under Louis Philippe who, bearing in mind the death and destruction witnessed by Place de la Concorde, was pleased to have found a non-political monument to replace the unpopular Bourbon Louis the XVth statue. -

* 1. Musee de la Marine (Maritime Museum); 2. Musee de l'Homme (Humanities Museum); 3. Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine (Architecture Museum)
** running steps - a progression on the points or demi-pointes by a series of small, even steps with the feet close together -
*** Adult >25: €7; Young adult like myself (heh) only had to pay €4.50

****6 [French] a : a mode of sculpture in which forms and figures are distinguished from a surrounding plane surface b : sculpture or a sculptural form executed in this mode c : projecting detail, ornament, or figures - Merriam-Webster
***** A mostly Asian operation where profit is made out of secondary sales due to goods bought by recruits from a lower priced market
****** (1895-1910) Literally meaning the "beautiful era", this style is exemplified by delicate, lace-like jewelry, sometimes referred to as "garland style", and often set with diamonds and pearls.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

PARIS Day02//09.Nov.04 - An Eiffel & Eyeful of Paris: Latin Quarter + Invalides + St. Germain-Des-Pres

Our second day in Paris started with a walk in one of Paris' liveliest area - the Latin Quarter. S and I arrived at Metro St. Michel and were instantly greeted by a statue of St. Michael slaying a dragon. From Place St. Michel, we diligently followed the suggested route that had us walking along the cafe-lined Boulevard St. Michel, which turns off into Rue des Ecoles, hence passing by the Sorbonne University^ and finally into an area known as Little Athens. Everything here was typically Greek. From the angular lettering found above Greek restaurants to the bright blue paint and Greek delicacies displayed.

Paris - collage_Latin Qtr

From the name itself, the Latin Quarter gave me a first impression of being an ancient and scholarly neighbourhood, which in a sense, it is. It has some of Paris' oldest buildings, churches, and academic institutions. However, having seen crowds of youngsters heading for class and going about with their morning errands, I find the Latin Quarter an interesting melange* of the old and young. The studious nature of the Latin Quarter is imbued with a youthful exuberance imparted by its mainly young-ish residents. It's striking how the spirit of a place is not just characterized by its history and architecture, but also its inhabitants.**

Paris - collage_Eiffel Tickets

Main Entry: eye·ful
Pronunciation: 'I-"ful
Function: noun1 : a full or completely satisfying view
2 : one that is visually attractive; especially : a strikingly beautiful woman

I got the above definition from Merriam-Webster. How very apt, I thought. The Eiffel Tower is indeed quite an eyeful. And it works both ways. At 115m (2nd level) it provided us with a panaromic view of the city beneath us. So am I done with "eyeful"? Not quite yet. I did say very apt. Most of us are aware of the masculine/feminine gender usage in the French language. Monuments are generally refered in the masculine voice i.e. le***. However, the French with loving pride refers to the Eiffel as La Tour Eiffel because they see the tower as the embodiment of exquisite beauty.

Paris - collage_Vic & CC @ Eiffel

Lady Luck (or could it be Lady Eiffel?) smiled on us that day and rewarded us the perfect weather when S and I took our individual shots with the Eiffel. With the stately structure and bright blue sky behind us, the pictures came out great despite it being a previously grey morning. We happily walk down Champ-de-Mars^^, which is the garden that stretches from the Eiffel to Ecole Militaire. Ecole Militaire is France's Royal Military academy where Napoleon was once a cadet. From there, we continued marching towards the Invalides, where we spent some time scouting the grounds of Hotel Des Invalides (war veteran hospital) and Musee de l'Armee (war museum). Within that compound, aside from the occassional war relics (e.g. canons) there was a soldiers' chapel, St. Louis-des-Invalides, which we entered. We however did not enter the more impressive golden Dome Church that held Napoleon's Tomb.

Paris - collage_Invalides

All that marching left us hungry and we proceeded to a popular restaurant that was recommended by a friend in the lively Rue Cler market area. S ordered a salade caesar, while I had the salade chevre at Cafe du Marche. The star of my salad was the square block of soft creamy cheese wrapped in crispy crepe on a bed of very fresh (the restaurant is in the middle of a market!) vegetables. The bed of vegetables was arranged in 4 different quadrants of variety. At one corner, couscous,^^^ the other coleslaw and there were helpings of french (but of course!) beans and an assortment of other vegetables. After being rewarded with a smile by the tall and attractive African-descent waitress for my "L'addition s'il vous plaît",**** we continued feasting with our eyes on the display of fromage (cheese) and fruits found at the food market.

Paris - collage_Rue Cler

With our appetites taken care of, it was time for art and we headed to Musee d'Orsay,^^^^ where I got to appreciate the actual impressionist paintings that I would normally only see in books. I was especially thrilled to see the familiar and famous paintings from Monet, Van Gogh, and Manet.

Paris - collage_d'Orsay

After trawling the expanse of the Musee d'Orsay, S and I capped our evening by exploring the gentrified neighbourhood of St. Germain-des-Pres. Here, S and I strolled past numerous cafes, a night market and speciality pâtisserie shops with displays beckoning shoppers with colourful macarons (macaroons), gâteaux (cakes) and tartes (tarts). With that, our second day ended deliciously***** on a sweet note!

Paris - collage_St. Germain

^ The Latin Quarter is home to several important French universities, perhaps the best known being the Sorbonne, the first university founded in France (1257) and one of Europe's oldest as well. The students from this university lend much of the youthful character for which the Latin Quarter is renowned. The university was the source of considerable original activity in French basic research by such personalities as Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur. -
^^ Originally a parade ground for the officer cadets of the Ecole Militaire. The area has since been used for horse-racing, balloon ascents and mass celebrations for 14 July, the anniversary of the Revolution. - DK Eyewitness
^^^ Pronounced, KOOS-koos. Couscous is associated with Morocco, but is a staple of the North African cuisine. Couscous is granular semolina (cracked wheat) which can be cooked and served as a porridge, as a type of salad (similar to pasta salad), or served with various fruits. Couscous varies from country to country, Moroccans tend to include saffron, Algerians like to add tomatoes and Tunisians spice theirs up with the hot pepper based harissa sauce. -
^^^^Architects created one of the world's great museums from an old rail station, the neoclassical Gare d'Orsay, across the Seine from the Louvre and the Tuileries. The Orsay boasts an astounding collection devoted to the watershed years 1848 to 1914, with a treasure trove by the big names plus all the lesser-known groups (the symbolists, pointillists, nabis, realists, and late Romantics). The 80 galleries also include Belle Epoque furniture, photographs, objets d'art, and architectural models. - Frommer's

* I simply have to point out my serendipitous choice of word in this context - Pronunciation: mA-'länzh, -'länj Etymology: French, from Middle French, from mesler, meler to mix. - Merriam-Webster
** Some people may shake their heads at my personification of a place/neighbourhood/city/country. It may be outlandish to some, but it's something that I can't help doing after getting acquainted with a piece of land and all its social, cultural, political and economical baggage.
*** Go to, type "the monument" in the 'Translate a block of text' field and select 'English to French'. The result returned will be "le monument".
**** the bill please
***** Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French 1 : affording great pleasure : DELIGHTFUL - Merriam-Webster (Just to prove my point that yes, "delicious" could be use in this context!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

PARIS Day01//08.Nov.04 - Bonjour Paris!: Montparnasse & Luxembourg Qtr

Morning person that I am, I often relish my ability to naturally wake up early to witness the quiet daybreak. With the screeching of airplane tyres and the announcement that we have arrived at Charles De Gaulle (CDG), the morning of 8th Nov was definitely less quiet. But more exciting. S and I trampled into CDG, which lacked the typical chaos and buzz of an airport since it was still dark at around 6am. Not needing to retrive any check-in luggage, we went to the toilet to freshen up for the adventure ahead.

Our first quest was to look for the station where we will be able to buy tickets that will get us to the city centre. After a few signage and a short bus ride, we finally found the ticket counter. Based on my guidebook's advice, I had earlier planned to buy the Paris Visite 5-day pass, and with that in mind was already practising how to place that order at the counter. With one finger pointing at the Paris Visite illustration in my guidebook, I told the Frenchman in charged "deux Paris Visite cinq jour s'il vous plaît"*. Perhaps it was my earnest attempt, but I have met my first friendly (and most helpful) Frenchman. Not only did he not condescend my juvenile attempt at French by replying totally in English, and yet at the same time trying to be intelligible to a non-French, he interacted with me in a mixture of French and English. He made it very clear to me that I should buy the Carte Orange^ instead of Paris Visite. Not only is it cheaper, it's a one-week pass that I would still be able to use on my last and sixth day in Paris. This genial man's advice^^ saved me enough (at least €31) for a decent meal for two in Paris.

Paris - Carte Orange

Carte Orange in hand, S and I hopped onto the RER**. The journey on the B3 line towards the city centre took approximately an hour and we reached Montparnasse to witness Parisians making their way to work/school, and our first view of Eiffel during daybreak.

Paris - Eiffel @ Daybreak

We arrived at Libertel Montparnasse way before the official check-in time, but was told that we could check into our room. Our room was small, utilitarian and clean. After unpacking and refreshing ourselves, we took to the streets of Montparnasse. Montparnasse is located on the left bank of the Seine and has an arty and literary reputation being once the hangout of artists and writers that came in droves when Montmartre became too commercialised and expensive. True to its nature, S and I came across countless cafes (including the famous La Coupole - Hemingway's hangout) cinemas, theatres, one sleepy cemetery (filled with dead artists?) and Tour Montparnasse (what used to be Europe's tallest building).

Paris - collage_Montparnasse

After walking past cafes after cafes, it wasn't long before we ducked into one (Le Veronese) and ordered our very first French croissant and cafe and partook in the favourite Parisian sport of people watching while sipping coffee. We found the croissant a little cold. Thankfully, such was not the case with our lunch where S had traditional French omelette jambon (ham) and I had omelette champignon (mushroom) for lunch before taking the metro to Luxembourg Quarter.

Paris - Omelette Champignon

Readers of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" will be able to relate with the next place we visited. St. Sulpice is the church with the controversial "rose line". Thanks to Dan Brown, St. Sulpice is now a must stop for "Da Vinci Code" tours. Tourists flock around the line and read with amusement the disclaimer where the church tries to dissociate itself Brown's fanciful exposition.

Paris - collage_St. Sulpice

Mainstream literature aside, we next made our way to a political landmark - Palais du Luxembourg^^^. A former palace that is now the senate, it is fronted by a garden - Jardin du Luxembourg^^^^. I had a lovely lovely time walking the grounds of this garden with its statues (all female!), fountains and octagonal lake. The crisp cool air, wet drizzle, and kids running admist the mahogany and rust coloured leaves, it was delightfully autumnal and a perfect embodiment of my idea of a park during fall season.

Paris - collage_Luxembourg

Having successfully covered the Montparnasse and Luxembourg Quarter as planned for our first day in Paris, we went back to the hotel to catch some rest before dinner. For dinner, we had it at a creperie just down the road. We found the savoury crepes a tad oily and the blueberry crepe we shared for dessert a little too sweet. Despite that, I was thoroughly enjoying the fact that I was having yet another French fare. After we were induced with calories and glucose, my ever so sweet S suggested that we pay a visit to the Eiffel Tower in order to commemorate our anniversary. It wasn't something that I had planned for that night but it was probably one of our most memorable experience as we marveled at the beautifully-lit Eiffel that literally sparkles and shimmers for 5-10 minutes of the hour. As with all night time photography, it was a challenge capturing the Eiffel in all its glory. After numerous shots, S managed to capture some pretty decent shots and both of us returned to the hotel very happy with how well the first day has turned out.

Paris - Eiffel

* Two Paris Visite five day please
** Réseau Express Régional; similar to the Métro except that it also serves the outlying suburbs and regions of Paris. -

^ Most economical for anyone planning a full week's visit to Paris with a lot of public transport is a Carte Orange. Sold at any Métro station, it allows 1 full week of unlimited Métro or bus transit within Paris (the 20 arrondissements plus a wide swath of the outlying suburbs) for 14€. To get one, you'll have to submit a passport-size photo. Cartes Oranges are valid from any Monday to the following Sunday, they're sold only on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of any given week, and they're valid only for the week in which they're sold. - Frommer's
^^ Officially, Cartes Oranges can only be sold to residents of the Ile de France, but according to a spokesperson at the RATP, 99% of RATP salespeople never ask for a carte d'identité, and the sale of Cartes Oranges slipped long ago into general usage, including by smart out-of-town visitors. - Frommer's
^^^ Between 1615 and 1627 the Palais du Luxembourg was constructed at the northern end of the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was built for Marie de Medicis, mother of Louis XIII. She was of Italian descent, so the architect, Salomon de Brosse designed the palace in a Florentine style. In 1794, during the French Revolution, the palace served as a prison. It also served as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. It currently houses the French Senate. -
^^^^ At the center of the park is an octagonal pond, known as the Grand Bassin. Here, children can rent small remote-controlled boats. Another attraction for children is the puppet theater.Around the pond are nice lawns and alleys, all laid out in a geometrical pattern. Numerous statues, including the Statue of Saint-Geneviève - patroness of Paris - adorn the park. This is also one of the parks where you can simply get hold of one of the many chairs and take it to the exact spot where you want to sit. The park is also popular with chess players and Jeux de Boules players. -

Friday, December 10, 2004

KL Day00//07.Nov.04 - MH020: KLIA - Charles De Gaulle Aeroport

Despite the prospect of cool autumn weather and with that, the inclusion of four turtleneck sweaters and various long bottoms (i.e. pants, jeans), my skill in travel packing has once again shone and everything fitted neatly into my cabin-sized luggage. I had two other slingbags:

  • small-sized: for daily storage of petty cash, notebook, pen, lip balm, camera, memory cards
  • average-sized: for my flight needs such as toiletries, books, shawl, glasses, bottle of water

While waiting for S's brother to pick me up, I had double checked and triple checked all my travel neccesities.

  • Passport - checked!
  • Traveller's Cheques + Cash + Card - checked!
  • Camera + Battery + Memory + Charger - checked!
  • Sense of adventure - checked! checked! checked!

As we had a night flight (11pm) to Paris, S's brother arrived at my house at about 7pm. After S helped me with my luggage, both of us proclaimed in wonderment on the actuality of boarding the plane to Paris in another few hours. I settled into the backseat of the car and tried to contain my excitement. For the first part of the car ride, it rained quite heavily and my mind had scenarios of flight delays and plane skids. Thankfully, my overactive imagination was put to rest as we got towards KLIA rain-free.

S and I checked in without much ado and while away time at, of all places, Delifrance! A bit of French before we experience the real thing. Soon, it was time to board. With less than full capacity, boarding was quick and take off was on time. S and I occupied the left seats in the middle row. I had my travel bag next to me, where I retrived my Travelers' Tales on Paris and Poddy (my iPod).
Travelers' Tales - Paris iPod Mini - Silver
As I immersed myself in tunes reminiscent of Paris (Amelie OST and French Kiss OST), I wandered vicariously through Parisian streets, and in between, slip in and out of slumber filled with dreams of Paris.....