Monthly Archives: September 2019

World Cooking – Liechtenstein

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Liechtenstein
Progress: 39/193

Last time I mentioned that it was probably time that I covered one of the big food nations, well today is not that time. A friend of mine was sending me random WhatsApp messages containing facts about Liechtenstein, so I have to say that I felt a bit inspired. Also I enjoy a few random facts, for example, Liechtenstein is one of two double-landlocked countries – which means it is a country that has no coast and is only bordered by countries that have no coasts. Another random fact – Liechtenstein is one of a few countries named after the current ruling royal house.

So what about the food? Well, seeing how it is sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland – the food sits very much between these two nations. This is why I decided to do Liechtenstein now, just in case I cooked something for the bordering countries that would severely limit my options for this micro-nation. I’ll probably end up doing the same for other micro-nations at some point.

Luckily, however, the Liechtenstein tourist board lists two dishes that they would describe as distinctly Liechtensteiner… so this is what I made today.

Main: Käseknöpfle

For the main we have something rather lovely looking called Käseknöpfle. To make this I moreorless followed the recipe from the tourist website, but with one key difference: I already had pre-made spaetzle back from when the local Lidl was having an alpine week. I’ve been waiting for a reason to cook these up, and what better reason than to smother it in Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions.

Think of this dish as being little fat egg noodles that have been covered in melted cheese and onions… done? Right, so you can see how Liechtenstein jumped up a few places on the list. For me, I think I would like to have mixed in a carrier cream cheese to help spread the flavour around (or I could have used some pasta water), but apart from that – this is something I’ll definitely be ordering should I ever find myself in Vaduz.

Dessert: Ribel

This is a bit of a strange looking dessert, but with the right accompaniment ribel was quite enjoyable. I’m not entirely sure where this Scribd recipe came from, but it worked out in the end, despite taking 3-4 hours to make.

The ribel itself is made from fine cornmeal that has been soaked in water and milk for a few hours and is then fried in butter for 20 minutes until it develops a crumbly texture. It ends up being like being a halfway house between cakey and the topping of an apple crumble. When you top this, as you are meant to, with some compote (I used a bramble jam) it almost tastes like a deconstructed jam roly-poly pudding, which I was not unhappy about.

Right, so it’s high time for me to make something from Asia next time around. I want to stick with the small nation theme for now, so I’m thinking something in the world of Singapore, Brunei, Qatar or Timor-Leste. What I do will just depend on strikes my fancy. I know which one I’m looking forward to researching.

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XL Popcorn – Chronicle of a Summer

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 744/1007Title: Chronique d’un été (Chronicle of a Summer)
Director: Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin
Year: 1961
Country: France

It’s only been a few days since coming home from Paris and I’m already finding myself looking back fondly at the time I spent there. You know the drill, “oh just a few days ago…” sort of things. Anyway, when I saw that Chronique d’un été had the subtitle ‘Paris 1960’ well the choice of what film to watch this afternoon was obvious. I mean this sounded like a documentary about life in Paris, right?

Well not quite. Chronique d’un été is an experiment in documentary as an art form. It’s the film that coined the term ‘cinema vérité’ and dabbles in the big question that we continue to ask when watching reality television – can you capture reality when people know the cameras are rolling. For this legacy alone, Chronique d’un été deserves it’s place in history and on the list. However, for me, this no longer plays as an interesting film to fill 90 minutes.

Since this is an experiment in a new cinema varient, there are going to be some areas that have since been ironed out. For example, there’s no real structure until the final 5-10 minutes which has the films subjects (who have watched the film up to this point) critique on whether the displayed film has depicted truth or not. It’s an interesting way to bring the film back to the original question… since by this point they meandered so much that you’ve probably forgotten.

So yes, whilst I am glad to have seen this as a part of cinema history – Chronique d’un été wasn’t really the film for me. Probably didn’t help that they appeared to have roped in some random black friends for when they shot the scene where they were talking about war in the Congo… or that they had to sit and smile as one of the white subjects (who, to be fair, was previously interned in a concentration camp) went on about how she wouldn’t be able to all in love with someone who was black. Kinda felt too set up for it to be truly naturalistic.

Good Eatin’ – Brocciu and Walnut Salad

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood items: Brocciu and Grenoble Walnuts
Progress: 778/1001

One of the things I have really loved about some of my more recent holidays is how I can extend them by bringing back some food items. I would have left this longer, but since I brought back a fresh cheese it was prudent to eat things sooner rather than later. Also, it’s a new cheese – who would want to wait for that?

So the first of these is brocciu, which I bought from a posh supermarket after descending Montparnasse Tower. This is a fresh sheep’s milk cheese from the French island of Corsica and is the final French cheese that I have left to eat from the list. A weirdly big moment there when you consider how big a cheese nation they are. In terms of look and taste it is very close to ricotta, but is actually lactose free – which makes it an intolerance friendly cheese. It’s one of those cheeses that can be used for a bunch of things; lucky as I bought such a big tub of it.

The other ingredient is walnuts from Grenoble. I bought these at the Bastille Market, which means that I was clacking my way through the Cimetière Du Père Lachaise and as I walked past the Eiffel Tower. It’s highly possible that I had Grenoble walnuts elsewhere during my holiday, but this way I can at least be sure. Now, personally I’m not the fondest of walnuts because they tend to dry my mouth out – however that did not happen with these ones. I guess that’s because of the growing conditions in Grenoble leading to a higher oil content… or something like that.

Rather than just eat the brocciu and walnuts by themselves, I wanted to actually make something with the, After all, this list is posited as being a selection of the best ingredients out there. I found a French recipe for a brocciu, walnut and apple salad which turned out to be incredibly delicious. The natural milky sweetness of the brocciu worked well with the vinaigrette (which I made using the Corinthian vinegar) to make a dressing that felt very luxuriant. This will definitely be worth repeating with some ricotta subbed in for the brocciu.

📽️ Disney Time – The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 22/57Title: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Year: 1977

There is nothing better for dealing with a post-holiday slump than a Disney movie, especially one with as lovable a main character as Winnie the Pooh. On the Eurostar back from Paris, I was so looking forward to putting this Blu Ray into the Playstation 4 and just laying on the couch with my angry shiba cushion. This may not be the best of the Disney movies in the canon, but it sure is one of the most comforting.

Given that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is actually a package film of three previous shorts with some added footage, this is the final film in the canon that Walt Disney had a hand in making. The first of the shorts, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, was released 11 years before the feature length whilst Disney was still alive – which would make for a nice pub quiz question.

The legacy of this film is unquestionable. Prior to the film, A. A. Milne’s characters were already household names, but the Disney versions (both the look and the voices) have become the default in the public consciousness – unlike the Russian Winnie the Pooh shorts, which are really worth a watch. There were a number of spin-off television series as well as a massive collection of plushies, accessories and other merchandise.

Due to the package nature of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh has no definite through-line, which makes it feel disjointed. Incredibly charming, but disjointed. However, one clever way they found to combat some of this was to go extremely meta. There was a bit of experimentation of this in Robin Hood with the Alan O’Dale rooster, but it goes full tilt here with deus ex machina solutions to problems such as the book being rotated in order to help Tigger get down from the top of a tree.

Whilst it will be a while until I get to the second of the two Winnie the Pooh films (released in 2011, with Zooey Deschanel singing on the soundtrack) at least there are episodes of the animated show streaming online. Next on the list, however, is The Rescuers, the second of three films in the Disney animation canon featuring Eva Gabor voicing one of the main characters. It’s another one of those early films that I only saw for the first time when I was in university, well that was (somehow) 9 years ago now and I’m interested to see what a second watch will bring.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 6 – Exit Via Musée d’Orsay

We woke this morning to a worrying message from Eurostar, the strikes were still ongoing and there was likely to be huge customs queues and delays for our journey home this evening… which due to cancellations was now the final train back to London this evening. Not a pleasant way to start the day.

But we are nothing if not adaptable, so we checked out of our great hotel in Les Halles and started walking along the Seine towards the Musée D’Orsay… after picking up some breakfast to go. After all, we didn’t exactly have time to waste if we wanted to do the museum justice and I don’t think either of us really fancied the coffee and croissant schtick this morning. A rustic looking sandwich of speck and Comte cheese on levant bread was just the ticket, even if it was a bit challenging to the teeth.

For the most part, the Musee D’Orsay is an art museum that picks up where the Louvre leaves off. The pieces are mostly paintings and sculpture, but there is also a significant collection of art nouveau furniture and fittings. All of it is set inside a renovated railway station, that was built back in the days where all the big train companies tried setting up their own.

By being set in a former railway terminus, the Musee D’Orsay has plenty of space to display the works. It also has the chance to do some cool things with the existing fixtures. For example, they have kept the grand room of the formerly attached hotel – which is as gilded and beautiful as anything in Versailles. They’ve also made great use of the station clocks which make some great photographs.

We started our trip off by heading straight to the top floor with their collection of Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist works. I pretty much fell in love with the first painting I saw when entering the floor (Le Cirque by Georges Seurat) so I knew that this would be a promising group of paintings. I also think I might be becoming a bit of a fan of Monet and Renoir after seeing more great works of theirs on this top floor.

The next few floors down after this group were full of furniture, which isn’t exactly my thing, but I did manage to find some cool pieces. I mean furniture that doubles as art is not my typical taste but there were some lovely pieces of stained class work and some really beautiful fixtures that I can appreciate an aesthetic level.

After this it really is a case of diving in and out of different rooms dedicated to different artists and/or movements to see what you can see. This is a gallery that has some incredibly famous pieces, so you are likely to come across something either interesting or recognisable no matter where you venture. There’s a famous paintings by hugely famous painters by Van Gogh, Degas, Gaugin and Manet – but then there are also some really great paintings by artists not quite on that level, such as Dante and Virgil by William Bougereau and The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet.

There is also this huge sculpture of a very happy looking polar bear. I know nothing of the backstory, but it’s one of those art pieces that you remember just because it really made you smile. They had little statues of him at the gift shop, but I don’t think I could justify the cost given that my home is so full of animals by now.

We finished our visit by going through the temporary exhibition that looks at paintings of the last two centuries that featured models who were black. It was interesting to read up on the history of the more famous models, the stories behind some of the paintings and to see some early video taped performances by the likes of Josephine Baker. Also, the fact that one of the final pieces in this special exhibition depicts a black woman performing aerial acrobatics made for a nice bookend with the first circus-themed painting that I saw in this gallery.

So that’s it for Paris. We went to Gare du Nord super early to make sure we wouldn’t miss our train and were able to exchange our tickets for a train that left three hours earlier, so we’re home at around the time we would have left. It’s a bit of a shame to cut the visit short by a few hours, but it will be nice to have a regular evening at home before work tomorrow.

I think most people who watch QI or browse Reddit will have heard of “Paris Syndrome” – a type of depression unique to Japanese tourists who feel like they have been let down by their Paris experience. There’s a part of me that wonders that, with this at the back of my mind, I came into this trip with expectations that have just been drastically exceeded.

From this trip, Paris went from a holiday that I did out of an almost obligation (I mean with the Eurostar on my doorstep, it’s stupid to not go) to a destination where I know I’ll be revisiting in order to mop up anything I missed. Whilst I still don’t understand the whole thing about Paris being the city of love, it is definitely a city to fall in love with. Au revoir Paris, I’ll be back again soon.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 5 – The Palace and Park of Versailles

So today is the last full day that I have in Paris and it really is time to cross off the final big ticket item from this wonderful city. It’s a bit far out from where I am staying at Les Halles, so before getting in queue it was time for breakfast.

I have eaten so much bread on this trip, and for good reason. France knows what they are doing with all things bread and, by extension, they know what to put in a great sandwich. This morning’s breakfast was a goat cheese, walnut, rocket, mustard mayonnaise and bacon baguette – I made a special note of this because I will be making this once I get home. Anyway, time to get into the insanely long queue so we can get to…

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 88/100Sight: Chateau De Versailles
Location: Paris, France
Position: #29

So many tour groups. I mean it’s to be expected as this is one of the big hints to do in Paris, but wow I cannot begin to fathom how many people I saw at Versailles today just in the line for the security check. Good thing we didn’t have a time window for our ticket, otherwise we would have been incredibly late.

Like most people we started on the main house before exploring the rest of the area. Probably meant we had to deal with more crowding that way, but it was standing right there looking so huge and impressive – how could we not go inside.

By this point I have been to a lot of royal palaces, including Herrenchiemsee which was King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s copy of Versailles, so a lot of these rooms and antechambers are really beginning to blend together. There is no doubt that the rooms at Versailles are incredibly lavish and contain some amazing pieces of furniture, but there is one main reason to go into the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors. Often imitated and easily one of the most famous rooms in the world. The whole thing feels like something out of a role playing game. The room is huge, and the placement of all the mirrors being opposite windows makes everything feel even larger. One thing that I didn’t expect was that the mirrors are not single sheets of glass, but a collection of smaller mirrors all put together, must have been a technology or a cost thing at the time.

We toured the rest of the palace and learned a bunch of history about the French royal family. I do wish that we could see the attached opera house as part of the tour, but I guess that would be difficult to do when there are events on and they suddenly have to divert tour groups away from there. However I really cannot complain, as the tour around the available house was really interesting.

By the time we finished with the main house it was lunch time. Rather than eat in the (probably) expensive restaurant we grabbed a hot dog from the takeaway kiosk and began our exploration of the gardens. One thing to note, as it was March during our visit they hadn’t switched on any of the water features. This obviously takes away a substantial element of what makes these gardens so grand, but it allows you to see the fountains as pieces of art without the distraction of water jets. So swings and roundabouts.

After taking way too many photos at the stairs to the palace (which I saw years ago as a panoramic painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) we wandered along the grand canal and made a turn towards the Trainon section of the Versailles Domain. Originally Trainon was a village that bordered the palace gardens, but the land was purchased by the royal family so they could have a summer getaway from life at Versailles. I guess that would be the fancier version of spending your summers by decamping to a house two streets away.

The first place you go there is the Grand Trainon, the bigger of the two main buildings. It has been set up as how Napoleon had it kept, but after all the rooms at Versailles proper I was beginning to have a bit of palatial fatigue. Also, this doesn’t really have as much of the wow factor of what I saw earlier in the day. The same was true of the Petit Trainon, that I saw at the end of the day – although that pretty much stands bare.

In between these main buildings we came across what might be my favourite oar tif the day – the replica of a British hamlet that Marie Antoinette had built at this end of the gardens. Truly this is such a batshit crazy idea because she had a number of buildings constructed to look like an idealised version of a rustic British hamlet so she would have somewhere else to get away too.

Even more nuts is that, as part of her hamlet fantasy, this had a fully working farm which is maintained to this day. You turn a corner and, boom, there are cows, sheep, pigs and a ridiculous number of goats. It would also appear that lambing season has occurred as there were some cute fur puddles on the lawn that were hiding kids and a lamb. Not what I expected to find in the grounds at Versailles, but a lamb and a chicken with an afro are always appreciated.

We wandered a bit more around the gardens, taking in the various gazebos and the water features that were now just art pieces in their own right. However time marches on and it was time to leave to ensure we got to our next destination on time.

There was, of course, time for a quick snack of a saucisson and cornichon sandwich – especially as I have been hunting for one of these for days and this is the first time I’ve actually been able to purchase one. It was worth the wait.

Anyway, our final destination of the day was Montparnasse Tower. It’s the only high rise building in Paris (because it was so hated that they out rules in to prevent more form being built) which means it has unequaled views from its 56th and 59th floors. It’s also one of the few buildings that I’ve been in that offers actual 360 degree views from their top-most open air floor. It’s a real must visit and I don’t think many visitors to Paris even know it exists.

Looking out of these windows was like a clip show of everywhere I’ve been in the last few days. With the exception of Versailles and the catacombs, you can literally see every landmark I’ve visited – even the minaret of Grand Mosque. Despite not being as high as other observation towers, the fact they landmarks are so recognisable makes this one of the best.

We took up a place in the 59th floor so that we could watch the sun set over Paris. Sure the wind was cold, but watching the area of Paris surrounding the Eiffel Tower fall into nighttime just felt like the perfect way to end our final full day in this wonderful city. We stuck around on the 56th floor for a while to see Paris at night form up high, but it was getting late and we hadn’t had any dinner.

Luckily for us, not too far away from Montparnasse Tower is a street that seems to just be full of creperies. We ended up visiting one that was themed around Brittany and had such an amazing meal with excellent service. I ended up having a buckwheat crepe with blue cheese, ham and walnuts for my main then, for desert, a regular crepe with apples, calvados (which was flambéed in front of me) and a scoop of apple sorbet. I wish I had another one of these crepes right now I must say.

And that is the end of the final fully day. Tomorrow is a late departure, so there’s time for more Paris before I head back to the real world. Again I’ve gone on writing until well past midnight, so it’s time for me to say goodnight and get ready for the last day.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 4 – The Louvre

Yesterday, I got a bit of a taste of what a trio to a Parisian museum was like with my trip to the Orangery. Today, it was time to tackle to big one – but not before we had a good breakfast.

Much like our visit to Montmartre, we started the day with what this particular café called the ‘Frenchy’ breakfast. So that was tartine, jam, croissant, hot chocolate and a juice. For some reason I assumed that the lemon juice would be more like a ‘lemon juice drink’ than straight lemon juice. No amount of follow-up jam could take the sourness out of my mouth for a good while.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 87/100Sight: The Louvre
Location: Paris, France
Position: #37

At 9:30 we arrived at the iconic pyramid, right at the beginning of our allotted window. Since this is one of the biggest museums in the world with some of the most famous pieces of artwork, we wanted to ensure that we had the maximum time there. We ended up leaving at 5:30, just as they started to sweep the rooms to get visitors out. Over the course of 8 hours we were able to hit up pretty much everything that was available.

So join me, won’t you, on a whistlestop trip around The Louvre.

To start, as a general thing to encompass the whole day, there are times where it becomes unclear whether you should be focusing more on the room itself rather than the pieces that are being displayed. What I hadn’t realised before getting to Paris was that the Louvre was formally a palace, which means that so many rooms have beautiful ceiling paintings and other such ornamentation. As with the rest of Paris, the Louvre is a place where it pays to look up.

The first collection we arrived at were some of the museums more modern French paintings. As soon as you enter the room, it is impossible to not notice Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’. It’s one of those iconic pieces that, as the first thing I really saw, helped to set the time for the rest of the day. Other interesting paintings were in this section, but none quite matched that – although Gericault’s ‘Raft of the Medusa’ is definitely noteworthy.

In order to get it out of the way, and hopefully have minimal crowds, we went a few rooms down to see the Mona Lisa in person. Despite not being open for long, the crowds had already begun to swell with many posing for selfies in front of the piece. Now that I’ve seen it in person, I can honestly spray that I don’t get the fuss. ‘Lady with an Ermine’ is so much better, at least for me, but I guess that’s why I never took art history classes,

Next to the Mona Lisa is, rather aptly the Italian paintings collection. So many of the great Italian paintings of this era are in Florence, but the Louvre really do have an exceptional collection. Raphael’s savage depiction of St Michael slaying a devil is stunning (although, really, who takes a selfie in front of this). Arcimboldo’s quartet of profiles made of seasonal produce are weird and so very cleverly done. It was also cool to see the other version of Da Vinci’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’.

We did a tour of the Spanish paintings before seeing, what ended up being, my favourite piece in the gallery: Winged Victory of Samothrace. So much of what made this a spectacle was how well the statue had been positioned. However, that doesn’t detract from what an amazing piece of sculpture work this is. In a weird way, the missing head and arms makes it all the more remarkable. The asymmetrical folds of the cloth and the detail in the wings have such a sense of movement, that it feels like the statue was designed to have these pieces missing. I could have stared at this for so much longer if it had not been for the throngs of people.

A quick mosey through the decorative arts sections led us to the Northern European paintings. There were a few weird ones here – like the above featuring two naked sisters, one pinching the others bar nipple – but the coolest one featured an entire room containing paintings by Rubens. These had all been commissioned by Marie de’ Medici to mythologize her life and are both utterly brilliant and completely hyperbolic.

Next on the list was the vast Egyptian collection. As with most things Egyptian it’s hard to reconcile just how old a lot of these things are. Statues here, like the red man, are so much better preserved than things from less than 100 years ago… despite being 3000 years old. Stone heads and inscriptions from 4000 years ago just standing there looking amazing, which really makes me want to return to Cairo as an adult to re-visit their Egyptology museum.

No Egyptology section would be complete without some sarcophagi, and boy The Louvre has some amazing ones. There’s one almost in the basement where they must have needed a stepladder in order to deposit the smaller nested sections inside. There was also a single mummy, which I felt a bit weird photographing (a bit rich considering I was happily snapping away in the catacombs just two days earlier).

There was so much in the Egyptian sections that I love, but I realise that time is marching on – as it was in the actual museum – so after a lunch of a surprisingly good ham and cheese baguette we went off to the newly(ish) opened Islamic Arts section via some of the Greek antiquities (where I got to see more of the Cycladean statues that I so fell I love with during my visit to Athens).

I love that more museums seem to be getting collections of Islamic art together. Geographically it is so close by and yet, because I wasn’t raised seeing much of it, it always feels fresh and interesting to me. I especially loved some of the jugs and incense burners that they had on display. Similarly, some of the ceramics and tilework was so beautiful and used palates that you just don’t see in other cultures.

Sadly the Near Eastern art section was closed off, although some Roman-influenced Egyptian art was on display, which meant the next stop was the very crowded Venus De Milo (although you wouldn’t know it from the picture) and the rooms full of the remaining Greek and Roman antiquities. Honestly, I felt rather underwhelmed by the Venus De Milo. It feels like, if the arms were still in fact, it wouldn’t be as highly photographed as there would be no mystery to it.

When you consider that nearby are dynamic works like this man lacing his sandle or this gorgeous statue of Artemis in motion, it makes you winded how it is decided that certain pieces are given pride of place over others. In the end it’s all taste and the snowballing of fame, I guess, and this way I got Artemis to myself. So there’s that.

Next on the list was the Near Eastern art. It’s rooms like this that make me wish that Iran was semi-gay friendly, because I would love to see their collections of art in a proper context. Until then I shall enjoy the drinks and drabs that we have in the West, such as these amazing man-animal hybrids and this jolly looking man with the heavy eye makeup. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll see Persepolis for myself.

The final big collection of the day were the French sculptures. As we’re actually in France, the number that they have on display is huge – to the point they they take up multiple courtyards and those are mostly modern ones… although they are mostly still using classical motifs like the death of Dido and the labours of Heracles. Among the classical marble it was really interesting statues of bronze and lead mixed in as a way to provide some colour contrasts.

Then there are the older French sculptures that seemed to focus mainly on Christian symbolism or were made to adorn tombs. There was a fantastically intricate alter piece carved out of stone on display, and then two rooms over is a delightfully macabre piece containing eight mourning pall-bearers decked out in flowing black garments. I can’t quite believe how well the colours have lasted until this day.

We rounded off the visit with a visit to the recently added galley dedicated to art form Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The name paints some pretty broad stokes there as it contains nothing from China, Japan or Korea. I guess they were going for something along the lines of indigenous art, but it’s hard to go there without dredging up a lot of politics around colonialism. In any event, this being our end point provided some really cool contrasts to the other art we’d seen during the day, hopefully this collection will be expanded further.

Right, so that was my eight hours in the Louvre. Writing it all down really brings home just how much I actually got to see. No wonder my feet were crying by the time we reached the end and demanded a long sit down before heading out for food.

For dinner I found a place that specialised in Alsace cuisine, the which meant flammekueche. We shared a flammekueche with creme fraiche, onions, Munster cheese, cumin and sauerkraut, as well as a delicious salad containing Alscace sausage. We really could have gone for dessert here, but we had another idea.

We’ve had a number of sandwiches, but until tonight we hadn’t grabbed anything sweet from a French bakery. Tonight we rectified this by finding a bakery about 10 minutes from closing and buying two eclairs and two sables (think chunky shortbread cookies). My sable was pistachio-praline-rose and was superior to my husbands one.

This post took a lot longer to write than I expected, especially as I stayed in one place all day. Goes to show how amazing the Louvre is. I’ll be back one day to see the parts that were closed off during my visit.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 3 – Tourist Day

So here it is, the big tourist day where we were able to cover a lot of ground without fear of the yellow vest protests. Since we’re the sort of people that enjoy walking around the city and only take metros when we really have to, we ended up walking about 19 kilometres today – which my legs are really feeling as I write this post whilst quaffing some raspberry cola.

To get things started we left the hotel in search of breakfast. Seeing that it was Sunday, we decided to make our way to the Bastille Market – one of the largest food markets in Paris. The route took us past the Victor Hugo house, where we stood outside for a bit before waltzing off again, and soon enough we were there.

The Bastille Market really has all the hallmarks of a great outdoor market. Good number of stands for breakfast, the smell of freshly roasted chicken, displays containing mammoth sized pieces of tuna and an old man on an organ grinder with his chihuahua. For breakfast we ended up sharing a butter-sugar crepe and a sausage-cheese galette. Probably could have had two of these galettes to myself, especially as I’ve never had one made of buckwheat before.

Having purchased some walnuts, to be eaten when I get back to the UK, we walked the 15-20 minutes to our first big stop of the day.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 86/100Sight: Cimetière Du Père Lachaise
Location: Paris, France
Position: #96

Yesterday I had a bit of a glimpse of what a Parisian cemetery was like with the one at Montparnasse, but that could not prepare me for how big (and quite frankly over the top) this one would be. This isn’t just a cemetery, this is an actual city of the dead complete with houses and the occasional gazebo… although I guess these would technically be called mausoleums.

Like most tourists, we picked out a few key graves to find and used those as an excuse to take a roundabout tour of the cemetery. We ended up finding Oscar Wilde, Fredric Chopin, Edith Piaf, Balzac, Jim Morrison and Marcel Proust. However, with the exception of Chopin and Oscar Wilde, the most interesting graves belonged to other people.

Some of them had statues of weeping women, one had an accompanying West Highland terrier statue perched on top, many had their own stained glass panels – but the most ostentatious of them all belongs to the man who build a 20 metre tall chimney as part of his grave marker. That is a man who clearly has the money, big dick energy and social standing to burn, because it takes nerve to have a gave marker this big.

After being suitably graved out, we took the metro all the way across town to reach the Arc de Triomphe. No visit to Paris would be complete without seeing this huge stone monument, but I had no intention of paying the 12€ to gain admittance to stand underneath it. I see why they’ve done this, because after all it’s on a roundabout, but this feels a bit steep.

We then took the opportunity to engage in one of the most touristy activities possible – a walk down the Champs-Élysées. Compared to how it was in Breathless, the top half of this avenue has so many more tourist traps and fewer actual cafes; a bit disappointing when you hear it described as the world’s most beautiful avenue.

The lower half is so much better. There are parks on either side and the architecture is far more palatial. It felt like a more heightened version of The Mall back in London and I was definitely here for it. We were loving it so much that we grabbed a salami baguette from one of the stands and just took some time to enjoy the surroundings.

At the bottom of the Champs-Élysées is the Place de la Concorde, which is a huge and ridiculously beautiful square with fountains and ornate street lamps. At the centre is the Luxor Obelisk, which was given as a gift by the government of Egypt. Weirdly, this is one of three such gifts and I have now seen all three (the other two can be found in New York’s Central Park and the other is at Embankment in London), which feels like a bit of a mini achievement.

Since we were making good time, we decided to pop into the Musée d’Orangerie. With our Eurostar tickets we were able to get half-priced entry, which made this an absolute bargain even though this is a museum you are unlikely to spend more than two hours in.

The big ticket item in this museum are the two oval rooms featuring panoramic views of Monet’s Water Lilies. It’s impossible to take a photograph to properly show how these rooms are laid out as it is such a 360 degree experience, but these rooms are worth the price of admission alone. Sitting here and staring at his large canvas of impressionist water lilies really does help to bring a refreshing sense of calm after having spent most of the day on your feet.

On the other other floor of the building are a collection of paintings by other French artists like Cezanne, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau and Marie Laurencin. These were all part of a previously private collection which makes for some interesting paintings, even though they may not be the most renowned by these painters.

An hour or so of the museum later and we were back outside and crossing the scenic Alexandre III bridge to make our way to Les Invalides. We had no interest, or enough time, in going in the actual museums but still wanted to have a look at some of the buildings in this museum complex. We were able to gain free entry to the Cathedral at Les Invalides, but sadly Napoleon’s tomb is ticket along with the rest of the museum and 12€ felt a bit steep for 10-15 minutes of tomb viewing.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: N/A – A repeat visitSight: Eiffel Tower
Location: Paris, France
Position: #40

15 or so minutes of walking later and we made it to our final big sight of the day. I have photographic evidence of seeing the Eiffel Tower more than 20 years ago, but I really have no recollection of this. I actually expected to be a bit cynical about properly seeing the Eiffel Tower in person – nope I was amazed about how much taller in real life than I had expected it to be (a stark contrast to how I felt seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time).

As cool as it is to see the Eiffel Tower it’s sad just how the surrounding areas have become with all the bootleg souvenir sellers and a bunch of women who are part of the same pickpocketing scam that we came across yesterday at the Sacre Cœur (one of them literally grabbed my husband by the arm). It actually made parts of the visit feel a bit stressful, because who wants to have their wallet stolen.

Things felt better at the top of the Place de Trocadero, where you could enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower that you tend to see in publications. The sun was also getting low in the sky, so it really was getting the benefit of the golden hour light.

Seeing how we hadn’t had much to eat, we figured it would be worth staying in the area to have an early dinner. Tonight it was steak-frites (where the steak came with smouldering thyme stalks, which helped to give a smokey taste) with a shared cheese plate for desert. It definitely scratched the food itch and I’m interested to see what I end up eating tomorrow… as I will be tacking the mammoth of the Louvre.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 2 – Dodging the Yellow Vests

When we booked this trip to Paris we hadn’t banked on the continuing Saturday protest by the yellow vests. However, in mid-March they began escalating activities to the point where a number of attractions that we’d want to visit were either closed or no-go areas. So, today is made up of the ‘non-vest’ activities whilst tomorrow is filled with things we couldn’t do today. All in all, it made for a bit of a messy day.

So the day started with a long trip on the metro up to Montmartre. To be honest, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but I think I’ve finally found an underground system that makes me view London’s in a positive light. I guess it’s because it’s one of the older systems out there, but it really could be a lot better.

Anyway, first stop of the day was the Sacre Cœur right at the top of Montmartre. I hadn’t realised just how steep this hill was, but a work out before breakfast is a good thing I guess. The basilica itself is so much bigger than I had expected and, on a clear sunny day, I can imagine this huge white church shines like a real beacon (like I saw when in Helsinki).

The insides are more modern and arguably more beautiful than Notre Dame, but I guess it doesn’t quite have the big pop culture presence. Technically no photos are meant to be taken inside, but about halfway around the church thus rule seemed to go out the window and everyone had their cameras out. The only guard on duty was so preoccupied with shushing people that he didn’t really have time to enforce the camera rules, which was good for us.

After this we went down through the adjoining park and garden (where we were accosted and had to push our way past some very pushy women with clipboards asking for email addresses, which it turns out is part of a pickpocketing scam) in order to procure some breakfast. The hub really wanted to go for something more French than grabbing one of the many attractive filed baguettes…

…and he was right. A hot drink, an orange juice, a tartine and a croissant. Really a great way to kick start the day, plus the chance to have hot chocolate in the morning and not be judged too harshly is fantastic. We took the opportunity to roam around the nearby streets (where a lot of shell games were going on with many a tourist being fleeced) before getting back onto the metro in order to make our way south.

The best laid plans still didn’t mean that we couldn’t completely escape the yellow vest protests. Then again, there doesn’t seem to be a central organisation, so it’s little wonder that there are pockets of these people all over the city. Anyway, we had made our way south in order to visit The Paris Catacombs.

It feels a bit glib to call a place like this ‘a bit mad’, but this is an underground system containing neatly piled bones from nearly 2 million people. It’s an interesting solution to the overcrowding of the Parisian cemeteries, as well as finding a use for the network of abandoned limestone quarries. Doesn’t stop this entire attraction form being a bit weird… and I loved it.

About half of the attractions tunnels contain the bones, the entrance to that section having a sign that says ‘Stop, this is death’s empire’. For the most part the bones are stacked in a similar way with mostly femurs on the bottom and the top being mostly skulls. It is when this pattern is broken that you really notice it. There’s a group where skulls have been arranged to make a heart shape, but the biggest anomaly is the “barrel” formation where them bones have been organised around one of the support pillars. If you are not comfortable being surrounded by old skeletons them maybe this isn’t the attraction for you, otherwise it’s really interesting.

The exit is quite far from the entrance, so we browsed our way through a number of beautifully arranged food shops in order to get to Montparnasse Cemetery. It keeps with the morbid theme, but this came recommended so why not. We roamed around a bit to find some names we recognised. Thanks to the map we managed to find the graves of Jean Seberg, Samuel Beckett and Camille Saint-Saens, but some of the most interesting were those of people who weren’t on the map and just had the money to have some really interesting gravestones.

I’m going to take a bit of a time jump here. We did a lot of walking back and forth thanks to some things being closed that we hadn’t expected to be closed, so we pick up later in the afternoon when we reached the Panthéon. I’ve actually been to the one in Rome already, but this one in Paris takes the cake when it comes to audacity.

Much like the Sacre Cœur the outside is stunning to look at, but the insides are truly something else. Floor to ceiling paintings depict scenes from the life of people like Joan of Arc and Charlemagne as well as other saints and kings. Large statues at various ends of the interior provide interesting accents and the many domes of the ceilings keep drawing your eyes upwards. It’s a real site to behold.

Then there’s the crypt, which is done in the mindset of glorifying French citizens that have had great achievements for their country, in the name of their country or had brought fame to their country. Aside from the many generals and politicians down there you can find Marie and Pierre Curie (which got me so excited, even if no one else seemed to be paying any attention to them) as well as Louis Braille and Alexandre Dumas.

A short walk from here brought us to Paris Grand Mosque. This was listed in the hubs’ book of interesting buildings so thought it would be worth seeking out. It’s been nearly 20 years since I was last in a mosque, so I did feel a bit self-conscious about doing something wrong that might be taken the wrong way.

The blue tiling on the inside was lovely, but the thing I liked the most was the garden in the central courtyard. Here you can see the minaret and walk around the greenery. I’m guessing from the empty pools that there is some water here in the summer, but since we’re still in early spring it makes sense that these have been turned off.

Time for another fast forward as we have another walk through the botanical gardens in order to reach Gare de Lyon, that would enable me to reach…

List Item: Visit a town twinned with your hometown
Status: Completed

Right so this is one of the weirder items on my bucket list. The borough of London that I’ve spent that bulk of my life is twinned with three places. One is in the suburbs of Melbourne, one is slightly awkwardly positioned in Germany – this one is 40 minutes outside of Paris and so makes for an interesting way to fill an evening.


I don’t know why, but it felt a bit surreal walking around here knowing that it’s twinned with where I currently live. Compared to my hometown there are fewer restaurants, but where it lacks in restaurants Evry makes up with a very weird looking cathedral and a sizeable shopping centre. The plan was to roam around and grab some dinner, but instead we bought a bunch of things from the huge Carrefour to bring back to our respective offices and then headed back to central Paris.

For dinner I could have gone for steak, but I wanted to have something that felt more French – so I went for a Croque Madame. It’s been a lot of bread today, but this Croque Madame really did hit the spot.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Tarte Tatin
Progress: 776/1001

After a long drought, I’ve finally been to cross off another thing from the food list. For the most part I’ve been thinking of putting this on ice as it’s becoming very hard to do without some specific international journeys. However, when I come across it there is no reason to not eat it, especially when it’s as delicious as this little personal tarte tatin. Those apples were so warm, sweet and melty – perfect with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Tomorrow will be the big tourist day with some of the big icons of Paris being visited. It’s another late one today, so it’s time to end this post before I fall asleep at my tablet.

🎻♫♪ – Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
63/501Title: Die Fledermaus
Composer: Johann Strauss II
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
1874

As I mentioned in my first post about my trip to Paris, I managed to get some decently priced tickets to see the opera. The twist being that it was at a venue called M93 in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny. Sure, it would have been nice to be in one of the grand opera houses, but the seats were comfortable and the performers were excellent. Turns out this performance was being done by students at Paris’s opera school, which means I might have been watching a star of tomorrow (hopefully the Irish girl playing Adele, she was outstanding).

So it turns out that Die Fledermaus is the first operetta that I have listened to. It’s a term that I have heard before with regards to Gilbert & Sullivan, but I didn’t know that it meant operatic singing with dialogue between songs. So imagine my surprise when the company started speaking French after singing everything else in German. I have such respect for the singers for making this switch, especially those who had Polish or English as their first language.

I think this might be the first time that I have been to an classical performance for this list where I found myself laughing. I mean this is a comedic opera centred around a revenge plan, but the performance was so great that the theatre was laughing fairly often. I also didn’t realise that an opera(etta) could be so meta, but that might just be this particular adaptation.

For me there are three real stand-out songs in this piece, which is wholly excellent. First is Adele’s Laughing Song, where sing-laughter is mixed into the lyrics as part of the characters denial that she is actually a servant.  Secondly are a few songs at the end of Act Two where Rosalind is having to fend off a rather amorous lover and then ends up having to pretend he is her husband. Then there is the big Champagne Song that reprises a few times and provides an excellent finale. It’s one of those tunes I didn’t realise that I knew, but the moment it came on I suddenly realised that I must have heard it somewhere before.

The whole story and concept is ridiculous and farcical, but that makes it all the more fun. Especially when I think of how serious other operas that I have crossed off have tended to be. I’d really love to see this again with proper costuming in a lavish theatre, but I am definitely satisfied with the version I saw.