Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Photos from Beyond Paris

The Tour Jeanne d'Arc where Joan of Arc was bought to be threatened with torture in Rouen in 1431.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

New town added: Blois

Just added a new town to the "Great Towns" section of the website: Blois.

Blois has been one of our favorite towns that we have visited. It is the perfect small French town, just a little off the beaten track - not too touristy, but with enough to see and do.

We dropped down for a weekend, leaving Paris on the Friday night and returning on the Saturday evening. However, the weather didn't co-operate, and we chose a time when many places were shut. We will be heading back next Spring/Summer to explore more.

See http://www.beyond-paris.com/blois.html for details.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Photos from Beyond Paris

13th Century Stained glass window from Chartres Cathedral.

Beyond Paris specialises in providing first-hand information and advice on day trips from Paris using public transport. Check out the website at www.beyond-paris.com

Friday, 2 November 2012

Paris off the beaten track: Following Lady Liberty

Paris is full of major must see monuments, sights, and museums. However, hidden within the small side streets of Paris and down some of the less traveled boulevards there are some hidden gems; secret sights that are off the beaten track but are well worth visiting. Not only will they give you some photos of Paris that are different from your friends and family, but they will also give you an insight into the real Paris of today, and the Paris of yesterday.

This weekends off the beaten track in Paris takes in three different locations.

The other week I posted on the work of Gustave Eiffel, noting that one of his major accomplishments was the structural engineering inside the famous Statue of Liberty (which was of course conceived and designed Frederick Bartholdi) in New York. No one, even those not of American heritage, can help but be moved at the poignant symbolism of this major global landmark

Paris' link with the famous statue is a strong one, and long felt. The original statue was designed and constructed in Paris . While I haven't managed to track down exactly where the statue was constructed, there have been a number of photos uncovered of the statue being built in Paris. Where ever it was, it would have been amazing to have seen it being built. The head and the arm holding the flame were displayed at different events in Paris during their construction.

Today there are a number of reminders of the link between France, and especially Paris, and the Statue of Liberty. Today's post visits three of them.

The first stop is on the border of the 16th and 15th arrondissements. If you have taken the RER to Versailles  and been facing backwards, and looked out the window at just the right time, you may have had a "what the...." moment as very quickly a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty standing on an island in the middle of the Seine flashes by.

The island is called Ile aux Cygnes (island of swans). The scale model is 11.5m/37ft9in tall and the book in Lady Liberty's hand carries the inscription "IV Julliet 1776 = XIV Julliet 1789" which equates "Bastille Day" with American Independence Day. The statue was given to the people of France by the "American Community of Paris" to commemorate the centenary of the French Revolution. It was inaugurated by French President Carnot on the 14th of July 1889, three years after the inauguration of the New York statue.

To get to Ile aux Cygnes either take the RER C line to Champ de Mars or the 6 line to Bir Hakeim and walk along the Seine away from the Eiffel Tower. The other option is the 10 line to Javel Andre Citron.

If you want to do a trip across Paris and visit all three sights, from here you can catch the RER C line heading into Paris. Get off at Alma Marceau. Cross the Seine to find the second link between Paris and the New York icon.

Standing on top of the Pont de l'Alma underpass is a full-sized replica of the Statue of Liberty's flame. Called "The Flame of Liberty" the statue was a gift to the people of Paris by the International Herald Tribune newspaper. It celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publishing of an English-language newspaper in France and was also, at the same time, a token of thanks for the work undertaken by France in the restoration of the the New York Statue of Liberty.

The Flame of Liberty was inaugurated by Jacques Chirac in 1989. In 1997 Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car crash in the Pont de l'Ama tunnel and the Flame monument has since become a memorial to the life and death of Diana with people often leaving flowers, pictures, letters, poems, and, on the anniversary of her death, sometimes candles in her memory.

For the next stop, jump back on the RER C line, in the same direction as before (towards Invalides) and change to the RER A line at St-Michel Notre-Dame. Hop off the RER at Luxembourg. Exit the RER station using exit number 1. At the top of the stairs is the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of Paris' major parks and home to the French Senate (there is also a pretty good ice cream stand as well!). Enter the gardens and go straight ahead in to the middle of the garden. As you come to the lake in the the middle of the Garden, go around the lake to the left and when you reach the other side, turn left again along the side of the garden and take the first set of stairs on your right. Go up the stairs and head straight down the tree lined alley.

At the end of the alley is what could be called the original Statue of Liberty. The scale model in bronze was apparently part of the preparation works for the larger statue in New York. Bartholdi gave the statue as part of the Universal Exhibition in 1900 and was moved to the Luxembourg Gardens in 1906.

 This statue has inscribed on its book "IV Julliet 1889" the date of the inauguration of the larger Parisian statue (on Ile aux Cygnes). This statue is one of many in the park, and if you haven't visited the Luxembourg Gardens, they are a great place to visit on a nice day.

Also of note, right next door to the Statue of Liberty, is an American Oak tree planted to remember those who died in the September 11 2001 attacks.

If you want to complete your tour of Statue of Liberty items in Paris, you should visit the Musee des Arts et Metiers at 60 Rue Reaumur in the 3rd arrondissement  Inside the medieval abbey church of St-Martin-des-Champs is a scale model at 1/16 the size of the original, and two models of the construction of the actual statue. I haven't had a chance to get to this museum yet, but as soon as I do, I will update this post with photos from my visit.  

For other activities that are off the beaten track and to get a taste of the real France, explore options for day trips from Paris using public transport on www.beyond-paris.com.

Keep up to date with upcoming "off the beaten track" locations, and ideas for day trips from Paris on our Facebook page and our Twitter account.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Trip Report: Fontainebleau

This is our trip report from Fontainebleau. We went a little while ago, as you will be able to tell from the photos - the weather was much nicer when we went down than it has been recently. We had tried to make it to Fontainebleau three times before, but for various reasons we never quite made it down. Finally we made it down. We only knew three things about Fontainebleau:
1) It has a famous chateau
2) The town is reportedly well worth seeing.
3) It has a famous forest where the kings used to hunt.

So again, we took the train out of Paris (from a new station this time: Gare de Lyon) to Fontainebleau. Train travel is getting much easier to manage.

We arrived in Fontainebleau at around lunchtime, and scorning the bus (which was packed with tourists) decided to walk the 4 kilometres to the Chateau, thereby seeing the purportedly cute town on the way:

The Chateau is similar to the others we've seen in that it has an open U shaped forecourt, with the entrance at the "bottom" of the U, but

The rooms inside are as ornate as Versailles, but somehow manage to feel more homely, and less ostentatious.

Key differences from Versailles:

1) Many of the original furnishings are still at Fontainebleau;
2) There's no consistent theme to the rooms' decor, or even their layout - many of them represent different periods in the royal history of France;
3) The ceilings are way cooler- lots of different geometric patterns and decoration styles;
4) There are many walls entirely covered in amazing tapestries;
5) The walls are also decorated with sculptures as well as paintings.

For example- the tapestries and other furnishings:

One of the cool ceilings:

The amazing library:

Another tapestry and furniture inside the Chateau:

The King's bedroom:

The roof of one of the staircases:

The chapel inside the Chateau:

Fontainebleau also has formal gardens - the largest in France. Again, these are less coherent than Versailles, but also more charming, but also designed by Andre le Notre. This is the view back over one of the lakes to the side of the palace:

One of the main lakes, with a summerhouse set on the lake, and the chateau in the background:

Another view of the formal gardens, with Fontainebleau's Grand Canal (much less grand than Versailles's: about 1/5 of the length, less than 1/2 the width, and without the cross bar) in the distance. We ate lunch by the right hand side of the Grand Canal in this photo but got chased away by swarms of midgets who liked our apples.

After lunch (at about 4 o'clock!) and some roaming around the gardens, we saw a little path leading as far into the distance as we could see. It went into the forest. Knowing that the forest was also famous, we decided to follow the path. This is about halfway down; you can see there's a hill at the far end:

In yesterday's photos there were some shots looking back from the top of the hotel toward the chateau. This photo is on that same line, but within the grounds of the chateau (about 2 kilometres from that hill).

We climbed up the hill, and took this photo looking back over the Chateau. If you follow the line as far as you can, the Chateau is there:

A photo from the same location, but zoomed so you can just identify the Chateau above the trees:

Another view from the top of the hill, this time over the countryside and forest:

Part of the walk to get there- nice to have something approaching a bushwalk!

We explored through the forest for a bit, and then decided to walk the approximately 6 kilometres back to the train. Once we were out of the track in the previous photos, we cut through the park at Fontainebleau. It was very beautiful- so much greenery! This is one of the glades we walked through.

Returning through the glades at the end of the day, we caught this glimpse of the chateau through the trees:

We arrived at the train station just a few minutes before the next train, and arrived back in Paris about 10 pm. Another very good day. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Paris off the beaten track: A walk between two artworks

Paris is full of major must see monuments, sights, and museums. However, hidden within the small side streets of Paris and down some of the less traveled boulevards there are some hidden gems; secret sights that are off the beaten track but are well worth visiting. Not only will they give you some photos of Paris that are different from your friends and family, but they will also give you an insight into the real Paris of today, and the Paris of yesterday.

The 18th arrondissement, Montmartre, home of the Sacre Coeur and Place du Tertre, is not really one of those places that you would call 'off the beaten track'. In places the 18th is absolutely heaving with tourists, souvenir sellers, and con artist (especially the bracelet scam at the bottom of the Sacre Coeur).

Many tourists (and by no means all) make the treck from the Anvers Metro station, up Rue de Steinkerque, through the bracelet scammers, up the Montmartre Funicular, around the Sacre Coeur and across to Place du Tertre. However, here is an option for seeing a little bit of the real 18th (and by no means all of the real 18th) for getting to the top of Montmartre while picking up a few interesting sights on the way.

[side note: when I started preparing this post, I wanted to look at two pieces of art in the 18th. These have become the bookends for this walk, and the other items are bits that I found as I made my way between the two places].

Square Rictus

This walk starts at the Abbesses metro station. Make your way out of the metro station and you surface in a little plaza called Place des Abbesses. To get your bearings, there will be a large red church in front of you (Eglise Saint Jean de Montmartre) and behind you is a park, Square Rictus.

The first stop is in Square Rictus, named after the famous Montmartre Poet Jehan Rictus (1867 - 1933) It is open from 08h00 (9h00 on weekends and holidays) - 18h30. Head into the park and turn left about halfway down and you will come across the piece of art known as "je t'aime" or the "I love you mural". Created in 2000 by artist Frederique Bardon and calligrapher Claire Kito, the mural, made of blue tiles with white writing, displays the words "I love you" in 311 different languages.

Frederique Bardon's idea was that just as love has a day, Valentines day, with the creation of the wall, it now also has a meeting place, in the 18th arrondissement. There is more information on the wall and its creators at http://www.lesjetaime.com/english.

The second stop is the red church, just across the road from Place des Abbesses. The church is the church of Saint Jean de Montmartre. The church makes beautiful use of tiles, both inside and outside, but is actually more famous for being the first church made out of reinforced concrete. At the time of its construction there was immense skepticism about the use of reinforced cement as it went against some of the construction rules of the time and consequently delayed the construction of the church for several years. The church also has a number of Art Nouveau stained glass windows and some great murals and mosaic work (including the alter) inside.

Now its time to start the walk up the Montmartre hill.

Come out of the church and turn left - cross the road as soon as you can. The first road on your right is Passage de Abbesses. The passage is home to designers and creative types, and has a strange calmness about it, especially after the bustle of Place des Abbesses. At the end of the Passage, on your right, is a little hidden garden, which is in fact the back of Square Rictus, but feels like a completely different place; it has a nice community garden kind of feel to it.

Check out the modern take of Edward Hoppers "Nighthawkes" on one of the walls.

Head up the steps. At the top of the stairs is Rue des 3 Freres. Turn left on Rue des 3 Freres and take the next right at the park/plaza up the short set of stairs. This will put you on Rue Ravignan.

The next stop is where Rue Ravignan meets Rue Gabrielle. A small plaque will show you were Pablo Picasso had his first Parisian workshop which he shared with Max Jacob in 1900. The story goes that Max would work during the day and sleep at night while Picasso would sleep during the day and work at night.. While it is not a tourist attraction, it appears that it is possible to rent the room as a serviced apartment should you wish to follow in the footsteps of the late great master.

Head up the hill directly behind you (Place Jean-Baptiste ClĂ©ment) and turn right into Rue Lepic. At the top of Rue Lepic is a peculiar building - octagonal shaped in white marble and surrounded by vines this interesting building which was originally a water tank and tower is now home to the "Montmartre wine brotherhood" founded in 1983. Closely tied with the small wine industry of Montmartre, the building is "A former water fountain which has become a temple to Bacchus". It appears that the facility is available for weddings and special occasions.

Also worth noting is that at 54 Rue Lepic is a house where Vincent van Gogh lived for two years with his brother in 1886.

At the end of Rue Lepic is Rue Norvins. Turn left onto Rue Norvins until you come to 2 Rue Norvins. An especially hard location to find as Google Maps takes you (logically) to number 1 Rue Norvins, which is by Place du Tertre, however number 2 is at the other end of Rue Norvins from Place du Tertre (so if someone is trying to paint your image you have gone the wrong way).

Just below a little park on your left as you reach the end of Rue Norvins is Place Marcel Ayme. Here is the second piece of art, and the last stop on the route. It is the statue called "Passer through Walls" or in French "Le Passe-Muraille". This statue is in memory of the famous Montmartre author Marcel Ayme who lived near by and is inspired by his short story about a man who can pass through walls.

Marcel Ayme is buried in Montmartre cemetery  An interesting touch is the brass bottom that someone has added to the wall to the top right of the statue. Also interesting is the number of guided walking tour groups who walk right by this statue as they explore Montmartre; people don't seem to see it.

From here it is possible to head back along Rue Norvins and visit Place du Tertre and the Sacre Couer, or head around the corner, back onto Rue Lepic, to the giant windmill "Moulin de la Galette" immortalised by Montmartre-based artists such as Renior and van Gogh.

For other activities that are off the beaten track and to get a taste of the real France, explore options for day trips from Paris using public transport on www.beyond-paris.com.

Keep up to date with upcoming "off the beaten track" locations, and ideas for day trips from Paris on our Facebook page and our Twitter account.