Sunday, 29 June 2014

Paris 2014, days 1-3

Day 1 Friday June 27
The trip in from Epernay detoured via the American memorial to the Marne Salient, which was quite grandiose, overlooking the countryside like a huge Greek temple.

a memorial2 a memorial
Then in through Paris suburbs to Porte Pantin and a straight run to Gare du Nord where we dived under the station and down to level -6 to return the car. On return we asked the woman to actually check and sign off the car, which she did, but it was not going to happen without our asking. Then to the official taxi queue, which was about 10 minutes long, then a 10 minute trip to the apartment.We had booked the apartment, Fontaine Moderne, through Frenchy Rentals.
Located in the 9th and a few blocks from Blanche or Pigalle Metro stations, it was a reasonable situation though far removed from the tourist scene in ambiance. A few theatres on the streets and the local “yoof” at the various cafes celebrating World Cup matches. A few young beggars who slept somewhere else at night, returning with clean clothes and sitting on their suitcases. The young man was helpful to us on several occasions. No sign, however, of drunks or threatening people that others had said were prevalent in the area.
The apartment was wonderful; spacious, clean, secure, a tiny balcony off the bedroom looking over nothing much, huge kitchen, washer and dryer and very quiet with double glazing. No a/c and that might be a problem in high summer, though there were two fans. Paula from Frenchy Rentals, met us as agreed and suggested local restaurants. She was always very professional and responsive in our planning stages as well.
p living room
Dinner that night at Les Canailles, was on Paula’s recommendation. While we were the first to arrive at 7.30pm we were the last admitted without a reservation and those coming in seemed to be locals and regulars. So if you want to go, book this one. It is well worth the visit. The first two courses were so good we went for dessert as well, which we probably shouldn’t have done. Those waistlines are still expanding.
p dinner les canailles 1 p dinner les c dessert 1 p dinner les c 3
Day 2 Saturday June 28
Saturday was our day for the Street Art walking tour.
First we negotiated buying a carnet of tickets at the Metro station using cash and a machine. Very few stations have a staffed ticket booth these days. The machine was easy to use and gave change from notes.
Lots of people were waiting at the café at Café Place Verte in rather damp and dreary weather. The huge wall next to the café was being painted, as it is each two weeks, by an invited artist, Miss Van this time, so it was rather fun to watch that in progress. Demien then led us on a tour that wandered through Belleville with history and artists explained and an amazing array of different street art styles, from paper, to tile to chisel to stencil to spray can. We had to opt out of the part that went up many stairs in a park but we re-met the group later and returned to the starting point. At the time I was vaguely dissatisfied with the tour, but looking back we actually saw and learned a lot.

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w denoz layers
Rue Denoyez
w hatchwork
Detail, hatched drawing
w spraycan
All done with spraycans
w chisel
Chisel art
w beware of words
“Beware of words”
w pacman
Space invader
Lunch nearby at Gigi’s Pizza provided surprisingly good veal and pasta putanesca while it poured rain outside. Home via Rue des Martyrs to ogle the food shops. By this time it is becoming obvious that my right foot is not faring well with 15,000 steps a day and that my plantar fasciitis is returning. This may well hinder what we can do. Dinner in our own flat, finishing with raspberries which were so good.
Day 3 Sunday June 29
Sunday just had to be Bastille Markets. The rain continued and bucketed down several times while we visited, but the awnings helped shelter us and we had a great time. First we walked through in one direction, checking out what was good, then we walked back, buying. So we got salmon, a pretty little pintade roast, a slice of a country terrine for lunch with a baguette, little ratte potatoes, raspberries and strawberries and of course, a bottle of wine. No paeonies in the market this time, just bunches of hydrangeas and others of pretty pink pea flowers. I bought a bunch for €3. Home for lunch.

m seafood m radish m produce
That afternoon we headed for Quai Branley where I wanted to see the vertical garden façade. It was lush and green but smaller than I expected. The offerings at the museum didn’t really appeal so we wandered on to the Eiffel Tower which was sprouting strange scaffolding. This appears to be for some sort of glass floored walk being constructed. However, we had no need to record this.
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Quai Branley vertical garden
m verticalwall2
Detail, Eiffel Tower
More rain and no real shelter, plus foot hurting dreadfully, so we dived into the Metro for home.
Dinner at Astier that night which we had visited before, also on a Sunday. It was very busy but the food was very good. My foie de veau was cooked as a thick piece and was delicious but quite sinewy which was a bit off-putting. The marvellous cheese tray of course for madame followed by a fresh red fruits and orange sorbet dessert that was perfect. A few noisy and rather rude fellow Australians made us cringe a bit.

r astier r astier cheese r astier dessert
Days 4-6 next time.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Epernay; June 25–27, 2014

The side trip Dijon to Epernay was to Fontenay Abbey, probably the first ever abbey we visited in France way back early in our travels. A beautiful, tranquil spot with lush lawns, big trees, water and the beautiful abbey, in very good repair and still lived in by the family that bought it and resurrected it from being a factory.
So we wandered again into the serene Cistercian church with solemn nave and light through the windows at the far end, the capitals of the columns plain in the Cistercian fashion, the one statue of the virgin and child in the transept. In the gardens we walked the paths to a sweet fountain pool and then again to the forge and ironworks driven by the waterwheel, recently restored to actually work again. I was sorry to see the climbing roses missing from the dovecote but the overall effect was very beautiful and faithful to the original plan of the abbey. Most worth a visit.
F nave
The peaceful nave
f arches
The Chapter House
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Entry from the cloister to the Chapter House
F cloister garden
Cloister garden
F cloister
Cloister arches
F tower
A long drive then to Epernay, much further than we were somehow expecting, to a small house nestled between various champagne houses on the Rue de Champagne. An absolutely charming place, Parva Domus, where the owners spoke virtually no English and we our very limited French. Still, we managed to get by. While it was very close to places such as Moet and Chandon it was actually quite a walk to the town when the foot was hurting. The house had a semi-spiral staircase and wooden floors that creaked as we moved but we found our Beige Room quite charming, spotless and convenient. There was also a wide terrace across the back of the house for sitting in the sun and sipping a champagne.
We decided to take the tour of Moet and Chandon, which requires booking in advance. Ours was for later the same morning at about 11.50am, which really meant we couldn’t see another place in the morning and be back in time for the tour, so we had an explore in the town. There isn’t a great deal to interest the casual tourist.
E war memorial
So many names on the war memorial at the Hotel de Ville
e fountain
Pretty fountain in town
The tour was excellent which may have been our particular guide, as other guests at the B&B had not been impressed. We were taken through the caves and given a quite detailed report on the processes, vineyards, grape varieties and blending to produce a consistent product from year to year.
E Moet
The waiting room at Moet and Chandon
E Moet hotel
Part of the Moet Hotel
E stores
Stored champagne ageing nicely
E riddling
Riddling racks to remove the old yeast
E oldest drives
The deepest and oldest drives
E Moet bubbles
The finished product
Then we had a tasting with two full flutes of Champagne with explanations from a sommelier. I watched the woman next to me put a tasting glass in her handbag. Later she and her partner spent hundreds of dollars on champagne, even a bottle of Dom Perignon, but she stole to save E7. Sigh…
On recommendation, we visited 520, a shop where the advice was reputed to be excellent. We consulted and ended up purchasing one bottle of each grape type used in making champagne ( Chardonnay, Meunier, Pinot Noir) so we could taste the difference. It was informative and the champagne tasted great later in Paris. No way could we carry it on the plane so alas, it needed to be drunk in Paris. What hardship!!!
Really, this was a stop just for a taster of Champagne. Tomorrow, on to Paris!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Dijon June 22–25, 2014

Lyon to Dijon via Cluny Abbey today. I have a fondness for the Benedictine abbeys after seeing several in Italy including Monte Cassino where Benedict wrote his Rule, and wanted to see this French mother house, even if there was not a lot left of the original 10th century building.

The current site is quite vast and the entrance from local parking annoyingly signposted so we walked quite some distance before finding tickets. A transept and tower of the original church remain and give an inkling of the size and magnificence of the building and the old granary building, now used as an exhibition hall, has a magnificent boat hull type roof and is a huge space. The grounds are beautifully manicured around the 18th century cloisters. Really most of the place was destroyed during the French Revolution, but it was good to visit.

c cluny
18th C Cluny

c chapel
One  chapel remaining

c cluny granary
The beautiful roof

c Cluny 1

c cluny capital

c support
Supporting character

On to Dijon and a return to Coco’s delightful “My Home in Dijon” and her warm welcome. It didn’t take us long to settle in and take a quick wander round the medieval parts of the town. The next day was set apart for visiting the Musee des Beaux Arts which was closed on our last visit. This is a truly magnificent museum which includes several important bequests from donors and also the extraordinary tombs of the Dukes of Bourgogne. These remain painted and gilded and lie in state in the grand chamber of the Guards Room, supported on marble arcades which house the figures of mourners in amazing detail.

a ducal tombs
The beautiful tombs

a tomb angels
May angels attend you

a mourners 1
The mourners

a mourners 2

We were very impressed with the exceptional altarpieces with intricate carvings of scenes from the life of Christ and his crucifixion, and some delightful, fresh faces in paintings from so long ago.

a altarpiece
Detailed altarpiece

a st michael
St Michael

The sculptor Pompon was born in Dijon and there was a room dedicated to his art, including other sculptures apart from his famous Polar bear (Musee D’Orsay). His spare, economical lines are very expressive. I was rather tempted to purchase a small copy of either the polar bear or the eagle but in the end didn’t.

We revisited the church of Notre Dame as well, a gothic jewel with beautiful stained glass, a very ancient statue of the Virgin and a carved devil face between the doors, maybe a reminder to the faithful as they left church.

a devil
Devil face

a rose

a virgin


The outside is decorated with more gargoyles than was strictly necessary and some interesting ones at that, interspersed with floral motifs usually, but once by something which appeared to be a murder scene. The profile of the facade with three rows of gargoyles is unusual.

a gargoyles 3_edited-1

a gargoyles 2
What’s with this murder scene?

a gargoyles

Next day a visit to the market hall, designed by Eiffel to wander among the excellent fruit and vegetables, the meat displays and even the general market in the streets outside. Markets are so enjoyable in France. So we bought bread and an agreeable looking terrine, some fresh raspberries and went home for lunch.

a apricots

a asparagus
White asparagus

The cast iron market hall

a horsemeat
Horse meat

Later in the day we explored the Mangin museum nearby with the private art collection in the hotel particulier of a brother and sister. Lovely panelled rooms and a minor but extensive personal art collection. This was their home, but I couldn’t imagine living there overwhelmed by so many paintings and volumes of furniture.

That night we dined at Le Pre aux Clercs in the square. A lovely setting on the place itself as the sun set and the fountains played. The restaurant has one Michelin star but to me was rather faded glories. Yes, there were little extras but the amuse bouche was stodgy and unidentifiable, the mains we ordered were of very different quantities of food, my cheese dish echoed the tastes of the risotto I had just eaten (dried tomatoes) and Nick’s dessert of a saffron pear with chocolate cone was heavy and clumsy in execution. I have to say that my dessert of a nut and chocolate log was very pretty, tasty and cute, looking a little like a bug with long feelers and being a great mix of crunch and creme. Really, though, the place should do better at the price.

a restaurant
The beautiful setting

a dinner
Rabbit loin on tomato risotto

a dessert
My cute bug dessert

While we were sitting four rows of tables back in the outdoor area, I was reminded how easily things can be stolen. We watched a “petition lady” approach diners in the front row and get shooed away by the waiters. Then, almost at my elbow, I heard a waiter confronting another woman who was making a beeline for me with my purse and camera on the table. Nothing lost, but the distraction technique almost worked. I expected it in Paris, but not Dijon.

Next morning Coco came and assisted us with our luggage. Stairs really are getting too much for us these days.