A Travellerspoint blog

France

Savoy

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Despite my extensive travels through Europe and passion for mountainous hiking, I had never previously explored the Alps, the proverbial “top” of the continent. So I decided to prioritise visiting the region and spent nearly two weeks in the French and Swiss Alps. The highest mountains in France are located in Savoy, a historical region in the southeast of the country bordering Switzerland and Italy. The region was formerly incorporated into the French state in only 1860, having previously been ruled by the Counts, Dukes and eventually Kings of the House of Savoy for nearly 900 years (Europe’s longest reigning dynasty became the royal household of the Kingdom of Italy, but were dethroned after World War II). While the local population speaks French, Savoyard culture and identity remains strong, reflected in the alpine architecture and cuisine. I stayed for two nights each in the lakeside town of Annecy and the skiing resort village of Chamonix, at the base of Mont Blanc - the European Union’s highest peak.

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Annecy is quite possibly the most beautiful small town in Europe. Colloquially referred to as the “Venice of the Alps”, Annecy’s pedestrianised old town is interspersed with several aqua blue canals connecting to the northwestern corner of Lake Annecy. The canals are traversed by pretty stone bridges and aligned with innumerable flower pots. Like in Venice, many of the buildings directly front the canals and display picturesque signs of decay. The architecture appears to be somewhat of a hybrid of influences, with the bulbous volume and structural form of alpine buildings and the pastel colours, terracotta roofs and stonework symptomatic of the Mediterranean. The old town’s commercialism is entirely devoted to the tourism industry, yet the successful preservation of its aesthetic character has ensured it remains a pleasant area to amble through. Thrice weekly a produce market takes over the cobblestone streets of the old town, cramming them with patrons eager to purchase Savoyard fruit, vegetables, cheese, charcuterie and sweets.

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Annecy boasts a sublime location adjacent a pristine lake and surrounded by alpine mountains and forests, establishing the town as a prime centre for physical endeavour. In the winter months, Annecy is used as a base for snow and ice sports and previously submitted a bid for the 2018 Olympic Games. In the summer months, canoeing on the lake or cycling in the nearby countryside are exceedingly popular. I chose to dabble in a day of hiking in my first non-urban activity in nearly a month of travel. I walked east through the beautiful parkland on the northern side of the lake to access a slightly inconspicuous entrance point for the trail leading to Mont Veyreir. The relatively easy climb passed through pristine deciduous forest and eventually coniferous forest at higher altitude. At the summit, I was treated to outstanding views of Lake Annecy and its environs under the blazing sun. I found the descent somewhat more difficult, as I struggled to rediscover the correct path back to Annecy due to insufficient signage on the maze of trails crisscrossing the slopes. At the base, I concluded the day with a brief swim in cool water of the lake.

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Upon arriving in Chamonix, I immediately suffered through a deluge for the first time this trip, signifying an abrupt conclusion to shorts and T-shirt weather. I travelled to Chamonix specifically to see Mont Blanc, but the chances of this occurring seemed grim in the thick, cloudy conditions of the afternoon. I had originally considered partaking in Tour du Mont Blanc, a famous 10 day trek around the base of the mountain through France, Italy and Switzerland. But I didn’t particularly like the idea of spending half that time trudging through the rain, so I instead delayed my arrival in the region to further my exploration of cuisine française in the sunny cities of the South. Unlike Annecy, Chamonix is an archetypal alpine village, with stone and timber dwellings situated on spacious grassy blocks spread throughout a valley. The town centre consists wide streets and large stone buildings with prominent sloping rooftops (for the snow), and is decorated with innumerable flags and colourful flowerpots.

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I was fortuitous to wake up in the morning to moderately clear weather, allowing me to view snow-capped peaks and glaciers on one side of the valley. I’m not entirely sure if I actually viewed Mont Blanc, or if the surrounding massifs blocked the view from the bottom of the valley, but nevertheless the scenery was quite epic. A cable car operates from the town centre to the top of one of the massifs for panoramic views of the Alps. Since the ticket was exceedingly expensive, I decide to pay half price – and disembark at a station half way up. This allowed me to hike along a very popular route for approximately 4 hours to Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France. I hiked well above the treeline, which allowed for continuously spectacular views of the valley and surrounding peaks. I lunched on a rocky outcrop dramatically located above the glacier and below spiky, shard-like peaks. When I descended to the train station servicing the viewpoint of the glacier, I was surprised to discover my ticket included access to a man-made ice cave carved from the glacier. The cave features numerous ice sculptures and has to be carved out annually as the glacier moves 70m every year. I caught the famed Montveners train back to Chamonix, which descends nearly 900m in just 5km.

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Travelling from Provence to Savoy was a demonstration of the extraordinary culinary variety between France’s regions. While Provençal cuisine is defined by its Mediterranean influences, with the abundant use of tomatoes, fresh vegetables and olive oil and its relative lightness, Savoyard cuisine is more closely related to the rich, dairy-dominated comfort food of neighbouring alpine countries. Cheese is king in the Alps and features as the prominent ingredient in most dishes – even throughout three course meals! The carb and dairy excess of Savoy is epitomised in the delectable calorie bonanza of tartiflette. Despite its ubiquitous presence in traditional Savoyard restaurants, the recipe was actually invented in the 1980s to promote the sales of reblochon cheese. The dish consists of sliced potatoes, onions, bacon and reblochon cheese baked in a ceramic dish, with the richness typically offset (slightly) by a garden salad. While in Savoy, other cheesy concoctions I sampled included ravioli smothered in reblochon cheese sauce, pork smothered in reblochon cheese sauce and served with potatoes au gratin, and onion soup with gruyère. In Annecy, I picnicked on a huge range of products purchased at the market: pepper saucisson (French equivalent of salami with countless varieties), rotisserie chicken and lard-soaked potatoes, a semi-soft cheese with a blue vein through the middle, ever so sweet cherry tomatoes, magnificent figs, baguette and a decadent chocolate slice.

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My time in Savoy concluded an absolutely brilliant 3 week stay in France, which I’ve definitely elevated to one of my favourite countries in the world. And I’ve only scratched the surface with France, with so many other regions yet to be explored...

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That’s all for now,

Liam

France photos

Posted by Liamps 22:53 Archived in France Comments (1)

Provence

France photos

Since researching my inaugural trip to Europe, I have always wanted to visit Provence in the South of France. Unfortunately, Provence was a victim of itinerary adjustments on 2013’s excessively planned Globo Trip as I reduced the time allocated to France (Zambia and Malawi were the alternative destinations!). I finally rectified that outcome by prioritising a visitation to Provence after the Games in Paris and spent 5 days exploring the region. I based myself in the medieval papal city of Avignon and visited nearby towns and attractions on day-trips, which was easily managed with efficient train and bus connections. Provence successfully lived up to pre-conceived expectations I had of the region, with beautiful sandstone old towns, Mediterranean gardens, rolling hills of vineyards, magnificent produce, delicious regional cuisine and near constant sunlight.

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Avignon is a small city of approximately 100,000, yet its historical significance is monumental. The city was founded in the 6th century BC by Greek settlers and quickly became a strategically important regional centre due to its fortifiable location on a rock and adjacent the Rhône. Avignon was absorbed into the Roman Empire and become part of the first transalpine province. After dozens of changes to rulership in the early middle ages, Avignon became the Pontifical seat and capital of Western Christianity in 1309. Five successive popes resided in the city, with each adding to the gargantuan Palais de Popes (as opposed to, say, helping the poor. You have to admire the blatant hypocrisy of the Catholic hierarchy). The building, considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic palatial architecture in the world, utterly dominates the skyline of the modern-day city. The popes also constructed the medieval walls that encircle the old town of Avignon, an evocative reminder and unique vestige of the city’s past. The Papacy returned to Rome in 1377, although Avignon remained an enclave of the Holy See until 1791 when it was formerly incorporated into France. The vast old town now consists predominately of 19th century buildings, a smattering of Romanesque churches, narrow winding streets and charming hidden squares with fountains and trees.

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The Rhône briefly splits into two branches near Avignon, the Petit Rhône and Grand Rhône, with the largest inland island in France located in between. Extending from Avignon’s old town is the remaining 4 arches of Pont Saint-Bénézet, a medieval bridge that once spanned the Rhône and consisted of 22 arches. On the opposite side of the river is Villenevue-les-Avignon, an even prettier sandstone town than Avignon. A monumental fortress occupies the hilltop above the town, which formerly housed a large French garrison when Avignon was still a papal enclave. The area inside the walls now consists of a beautiful Mediterranean garden with tremendous views over Avignon and the surrounding countryside.

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The South of France is scattered with Roman ruins, as the region was one of the earliest conquests of the Roman Republic. The most glorious vestige of Roman rule is Pont du Gard, a remarkable aqueduct bridge spanning a scenic valley. Aqueducts were constructed in Roman provinces for both functional and symbolic purposes, as they were an explicit demonstration to local populations of the technology, wealth and power the Roman state possessed. Pont du Gard was constructed in the first century AD as part of an aqueduct system carrying water 50km to the Roman colony of Nîmes. Pont du Gard is the tallest Roman aqueduct at nearly 50m in height and has a gradient of just 1 in 18,241, a phenomenal testament to the precision of Roman engineering! The three-tier aqueduct bridge, traversing a beautiful river used for swimming and canoeing, is idyllically located amid Mediterranean scrub and is definitely one of the most impressive ancient monuments I have visited.

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I caught a train about 45 minutes south of Avignon to the historic city of Arles; an important centre during Roman times and the subject of innumerable Van Gogh paintings. The narrow, winding and mostly pedestrianised streets of the World Heritage listed old town are stupefyingly beautiful, with pastel buildings framed by brilliantly coloured doors and windows and verdant vinery. Seemingly around every corner in Arles is another streetscape begging to be photographed. The compact urban fabric opens up in patches to reveal a Baroque square, the ruins of a Roman theatre and, brilliantly, a massive Roman colosseum. Unfortunately I did not enter the extraordinary edifice because it was being used to host bull racing, a sport from the Camargue region of Provence with an ethically questionable reputation.

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The French adoration and respect for la terain, “the land”, is explicitly demonstrated at street markets, which occur in each Provençal town once per week. I visited the Friday market in Carpentras, which completely takes over the streets of the town centre with over 500 stalls displaying the incredible bounty of Provence. The market bursts with colour from the fresh produce of the fruit and vegetable stalls selling piles of peaches, apricots, grapes, pears, berries, cantaloupes, lettuces, aubergines, capsicums and superb tomatoes. Fromagerie stalls offer a myriad of Provence’s famed and mouthwatering goat’s cheeses, from fresh to aged and natural to marinated. Charcuterie stalls abound with local speciality hams, saucissons, terrines and pates. Other prized ingredients abundant at the market include lavender, honey, extra virgin olive oil, olives, garlic, nougat and rosé. Permeating throughout the streets are the intoxicating aromas of the rotisseries, which originate in Provence. Chickens basted in a tomato sauce slowly rotate on spits, with potatoes and stuffed vegetables cooked in the resultant dripping on a hot plate at the bottom. Visiting a street market is an unmissable aspect of Provence to observe how the French rightfully celebrate the food from their lands.

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Provençal cuisine is essentially a fusion of French and Italian influences, creating one of the greatest regional cuisines in the world. The diet is noticeably lighter than elsewhere in France, with the prolific use of olive oil (instead of butter) and vegetables. Nevertheless, my opening
Provençal meal was an artery clogging 3 cheese tartine (open faced grilled sandwich), offset at least my a walnut and butternut lettuce salad. In Avignon, I enjoyed 2 superb multi-course dinners. The first started with a goat’s cheese and herbs cheesecake with smoked salmon and tomato salad, followed by quail with a creamy barley side and a lemon curd to conclude. The second dinner consisted of Provençal stuffed vegetables (highlight dish- tomatoes and zucchinis stuffed with a spiced pork mixture and served with red wine sauce and salad), fried white fish with ratatouille and a citrusy cake. In Arles, I had the opportunity to enjoy one of my favourite French dishes: steak tartare. The ground raw beef topped with a raw egg yolk was flavoured with capers and finely chopped cornichons and red onion and served with fried potatoes and salad with a mustard vinaigrette. In Avignon, I feasted on a lunch tasting plate of Provençal specialties, which included zucchini gaspacho (very refreshing), salmon and rocket cream wrap (rich), carrot and turmeric pudding (strangely pleasant) and Serrano ham with cantaloupe (easily the best melons I have ever eaten were in Provence). This was followed by a decadent chocolate and pistachio fondant with strawberries and red currants. One of my favourite experiences in Provence was to picnic on local specialties on the balcony of my Airbnb, watching the sky colour gradually change At sunset above the terracotta roofs.

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Provence was yet another French destination I absolutely loved for the climate, history, architecture, food and lifestyle. I only scratched the surface in my fleeting visit of Provence; for example, I never even managed to explore the region’s picturesque villages and varying landscapes. Doubtless I will be returning to this wonderful pocket of the world in the future.

That’s all for now,

Liam

France photos

Posted by Liamps 23:16 Archived in France Comments (1)

Lyon II

France photos

En route from Paris to Provence, I returned to Lyon to visit French Arnaud, who I met in Amsterdam. Lyon exhibits an intriguing mixture of architectural and cultural influences due to its location at the crossroads between Paris, the Riviera, Italy and the Alps. It was my second visit to France’s second city, but as always, the experience was very different with a local guide. Arnaud is a former junior butterly champion of France, which made my recent swimming exploits in Paris seem rather lethargic and inconsequential, and the only person I have met under the age of 30 who religiously brushes their teeth after every meal. Originally from Alsace, Arnaud migrated to Lyon for its amiable weather and small city vibe. He informed me that most of his social network are also migrants from other areas of France. Apparently the Lyonnais, like people from the South of France in general, are rather exclusive in their social interactions. Additionally, people from Paris and the West of France, are typically quite arrogant; only people from the East of France are friendly and relaxed! Unfortunately, I have been unable to verify these portrayals with another Frenchmen.

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Upon arriving, I was immediately reminded of my impressions in 2013 that Lyon is an incredibly liveable city. Lyon boasts a comprehensive and user-friendly public transport system, with an efficient and modern metro integrated with an expansive tram network and two funicular railways (connecting the centre to adjacent hilly neighbourhoods); an impressive suite of infrastructure for a relatively small city. Aside from the windy streets of the medieval old town, the layout of Lyon is generally rectilinear, logical and navigable. Like most European cities, the central areas of Lyon are compact and easily traversed on foot or bicycle. Nevertheless, pedestrian boulevards, strategically located public squares, abundant parkland and two rivers cutting through the city (the Rhône and Saône) to form a confluence provide spaciousness lacking in cramped and overcrowded cities like Paris, Barcelona and Rome. Lyon is a visually appealing city of clean streets and historic Mediterranean-influenced architecture, and is illuminated beautifully in the night time (it is known in French as the “city of lights”). The city enjoys the distinction as France’s gastronomic capital and features an eclectic bar scene. Lyon’s location affords it with a climate of warm summers and mild winters and access within two hours by TGV to the Mediterranean coast, the alpine mountains and Paris. Lyon is a unique blend of Northern European orderliness and efficient urban planning with Southern Europe culture and vibe. Overall, its unfortunate that Lyon does not rank highly on the Anglo-centric “world’s most liveable city” indexes.

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I arrived in Lyon on a weekend, allowing Arnaud to act as my personal tour guide. Lyon is comprised of 9 arrondissements, which are municipal subdivisions used in France’s 3 largest cities. On the first day we visited the 5th Arrondissement to the west of the Saône, which consists of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. The old town is somewhat reminiscent of northern Italian cities, with its Renaissance architecture, narrow cobblestone streets and terracotta roofs all bathed in sunlight. We caught the funicular to the peak of the hill adjacent Vieux Lyon to admire the whimsical architecture of La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviére and magnificent views of Lyon and the Alps in the far distance. The view of Central Lyon is of a veritable sea of ochre red (from the roofing) and buildings of almost uniform height, interspersed only by 2 totally out of place modern skyscrapers. We also visited the nearby Roman ruins and excellently preserved amphitheatre, which are free to explore. Arnaud previously lived within the vicinity of the ruins, which served as a surreally beautiful location to read a book or eat lunch. In the late afternoon, we ambled through the city centre in the 1st Arrondissement, which occupies the peninsula between the Rhône and Saône. The 1st Arrondissement is the primary administrative, commercial and entertainment area in Lyon and features predominately 19th century structures. In the evenings, the banks of the Rhône are transformed into a hub of activity, with Lyonnais enjoying picnics and drinks while enjoying the city lights. Dozens of large boats are permanently moored to the eastern riverbanks and serve as bars or nightclubs in the evenings. We passed one of the most popular boats called “Ayers Rock”, which promoted Arnaud to attempt to mimic the Aussie accent while failing to drop quintessentially French sounds. Not that my efforts in the French language were any better, although everyone seemed to appreciate when I said “merci beaucoup!”

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On the following day, we caught another funicular to Croix Rousse in the 4th Arrondissement, immediately north of the city centre. Croix Rousse is vaguely similar to Montmartre in Paris, with its hilly topography and Bohemian reputation. The area features Lyon’s most famous mural, Le Mur des Canuts. The mural occupies a formally barren wall of a multi-storey building and is a remarkable 3-dimensional illusion of a typical streetscape, replete with shopfronts, cars and landscaping. The mural is updated every decade to reflect contemporary styles. We then ventured down the hills and crossed the Rhône to the 6th Arrondissement, which Arnaud vouched for as the finest in Lyon. The arrondissement consists of Europe’s largest urban park, Parc de la Tête d’Or. We ambled through the scenic park and even visited its free zoological gardens.

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Arnaud was insistent that to properly appreciate French cuisine, I needed to sample foie gras (duck or goose liver). The French are utterly obsessed by foie gras, which is a staple entrée of the traditional Christmas feast. Yet the method of production is extremely controversial, with the caged and immobile birds force-fed corn via a feeding tube multiple times a day to swell their livers to 8-10 times the natural size (if the birds are fed naturally, the liver is not considered foie gras by French law). The ethically destitute practice is thus banned from most Western countries, including Australia. Needless to say, I still feel morally compromised that I chose to eat foie gras, although it was admittedly very delicious. Foie gras is immensely richer in flavour and smoother than paté and is typically eaten with just baguette. The flavour is so overwhelming that its really not an ingredient I could consume regularly. Arnaud, like most of the French, acknowledges the cruelty associated with foie gras. But his love for the taste and its cultural significance eventually supersedes any moral imperative. I suppose every society has an intriguing ability to “turn a blind eye” from inhumane practices; Australians, for example, with our treatment of asylum seekers.

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Arnaud otherwise provided excellent commentary and guidance on the culinary traditions of Lyon, which the French consider to be the country’s foodie centre. The city is particularly famed for its veneration of offal, which on my first visit I regrettably dabbled with by trying calf’s head. On this occasion, my Lyonnais culinary experiences were far less traumatic. I feasted on an incredibly rich and delicious local speciality named quenelle de brodet. The dish consists of fish and a white sauce (roux) which are mixed together, sieved and poached. The resulting forcemeat is served with a creamy crayfish sauce and rice, creating a dish that is so filling I was unable to finish it (very rare). I sampled cervelle de canut, which is a fresh cheese spread flavoured with herbs and shallots, with boiled potatoes. As possibly the only Frenchman who does not like cheese, Arnaud was utterly repulsed by the sight of this dish. I tried saucisson de Lyon, which is a large sausage made from beef and bacon and typically served in slices due to the thickness. The meat topped a very rich green lentils and a red wine stew, creating a lovely comfort food dish for the summer heat. For sweets, I indulged in two of the local sugary treats: coussins de Lyon, which are delectable bite-size pieces of chocolate coated in marzipan, and the spectacular tarte aux pralines, a tart filled with a bright red-rose paste made from crushed Lyonnaise pralines (the idiosyncratic colour is derived purely from food dye, disappointingly) and cream.

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As I expressed my exasperation for the volume and richness of the food the French seemed to eat, Arnaud confirmed that a typical French household would often have 3-4 courses each evening, with obligatory sides of baguette. I have since learnt that Australians, ranked 33rd in the world for average daily calorie consumption per capita, eat approximately 10% less calories than the French, ranked 12th (Australians surprisingly consume less calories on average than every country in Western Europe except for Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands – incidentally the 3 countries with the worst cuisines in the region!). So the theory that the French “eat in moderation” to offset their diets heavy with bread, butter, pastries, cheese and charcuterie is an absolute myth. Yet the French, irritatingly, have a genetic propensity for leanness in comparison with Australia, as only 15% of the population is considered obese versus 27%. Somehow, the French can have their cake and eat it too.

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Lyon lacks the iconic attractions of major European cities and is thus excluded excluded from the mass-tourist route through the continent. Yet the city is evidently very liveable and an enjoyable destination to spend a couple days exploring its intriguing neighbourhoods.

That’s all for now,

Liam

France photos

Posted by Liamps 06:53 Archived in France Comments (1)

Paris II

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With the Gay Games occurring in one of the greatest cities in the world, I couldn’t resist the opportunity of returning to Paris on an extended jaunt through Europe. Since I had already “ticked off” most of the major tourist attractions, my second visit was characterised essentially by blissfully “doing nothing” (excluding attendance at the competition swimming pool each morning of course). Its such a relief to have the mental freedom to simply enjoy a magnificent city such as Paris without the incessant stress of dealing with an itinerary and long queues. After swimming, I spent my free time wandering aimlessly through Le Marais, Montmartre and along the Seine, stopping for 3-course lunches, 3 course dinners, pastries, Provençal rose and Breton cider on the way. Needless to say, I revelled in travelling back to Paris unhampered by a backpacker mindset or budget.

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Paris was one of my favourite destinations I visited on my gap year in 2013 as I marvelled at the city’s illustrious list of iconic architecture and art collections (reflected upon exhaustively in Paris – it seems I was a better writer at 21!). While the nature of my second visit was completely different, I potentially enjoyed the city even more as I contemplated the positive virtues of life in the French capital, somewhat surprisingly. Undoubtedly, my thoughts were influenced deceptively by the minimal congestion experienced in the city due to the traditional exodus of Parisians to the Riviera in August. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly impressed by the lifestyle of Parisians. While London, Tokyo and New York City serve as the pillars of global finance, Paris is an emphatic demonstration of what living should actually be about. The gastronomic capital of the world; the fashion capital of the world. The city of lights; the city of love. A metropolis visually defined by an architectural ensemble totally incomparable with any other place on Earth. An unparalleled adoration for the arts, with museums that individually shame the collections of most sovereign nations. A vibrant outdoor lifestyle, with its idiosyncratic street-facing dining and strategically located (if limited) parks to picnic and savour French wine in. And with comparatively short working hours (35 hours per week), Parisians have ample time to enjoy their remarkable city’s indulgent provisions.

The tiny apartment I stayed in was 20 minutes from the Seine on the northern periphery of Le Marais, the historic centre of Paris. It was a fantastic area to be based for 8 nights, because it was sufficiently far from the ultra-touristic heart of Le Marais while remaining accessible to transport connections and Le Marais’s nightlife. Le Marais’ medieval layout of narrow winding streets differentiates it from most areas of Paris, which typically have grid-like formations and grandiose boulevards. The area is thus idyllic for “getting lost” on a casual walk, while perusing boutique shops and admiring the old sandstone buildings that radiate a golden glow. Galleries, cafes, bistros and wine bars are nestled throughout the neighbourhood, ensuring a constant flow of activity. Le Marais is progressively more busy the closer you are to the Seine, culminating in a bustling area clustered with shopping malls, bars and clubs.

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I spent an afternoon in Montmartre, Paris’s famed hilly neighbourhood that has long been a favourite of artists for its Bohemian culture. Crowning the area on the highest point is Sacré Cœur, the iconic bone white basilica that provides spectacular views of the metropolis. The sloping lawn immediately in front of the structure was an excellent location for me to wile away an hour reading. I ambled through an intriguing square adjacent the basilica filled with over 50 artists offering to paint the portraits of the myriad tourists congregated in the area. It was really fascinating to watch how fast their creations came to life and to observe the stylistic differences between artists. I escaped the tourist hordes by exploring the shady cobblestone backstreets of Montmartre that wind up and down the hills. I visited a beautiful cemetery in Montmartre filled with lush deciduous trees, which somewhat created the vibe that the morbid precinct was actually a celebration of life rather than death. Numerous French celebrities are buried in the cemetery including Dalida, one France’s most beloved divas. Dalida, who recorded music in 7 languages, is synonymous with Montmartre, with a small square named after her and souvenir shops brimming with associated paraphernalia.

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No visit to Paris is complete without an obligatory visit to the Eiffel Tower. Both by day and by night. I ventured back on a very hot afternoon with Australian Katie, who was on her first pilgrimage to the world’s most famous post-industrial structure. Katie was nearing the end of her first Euro trip and our timing in Paris happened to coincide. We met at the Tuileries Gardens and gossiped about work as we ambled along the Seine. Despite its central location, the Eiffel Tower is actually very isolated from other points of interest, and the journey on foot is relatively unpleasant beside roads heavy with traffic. Accessing the Tower from the nearby metro station is also an ordeal, as it requires walking for 20 minutes through throngs of tourists and people selling masses of absolute junk on the footpaths. I don’t understand why the French fail to police the rubbish being illegally sold, especially since their goods (displayed on mats on the paths) block pedestrian movements. While this situation is also prevalent in tourist magnets in Italy and Spain, I’ve never seen it in London. It was even more unbearable at night, when the area heaved with countless people. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a very pleasant picnic in the evening with the swimming club, as we watched the sky colour transform and the Tower eventually dazzle with lights.

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On my first visit to Paris I was underwhelmed by the cuisine, incomprehensibly. Not this time. With a casual disregard for intended budgetary restraint, I consumed a cavalcade of magnifique dishes with reckless gluttony. Despite one harrowing incident of being dragged to an Italian restaurant by Welsh Dave from the swimming club with Australian Hayden, American Ross and American Cameron, I otherwise adhered to my deep religious conviction of eating only traditional food while travelling. I was perplexed by Dave’s penchant to eat greasy international fast-food while in Paris, which I considered to be a somewhat sacrilegious practice by a pastry chef. Dave fortuitously redeemed himself by recommending a restaurant that provided the culinary highlight of my time in France and one of the best 3 course meals I have ever eaten. I started with a heavenly asparagus soup enriched with crème fraïche, which appropriately respected the natural sweetness of the vegetable. For the main course, I had a delicious rare fillet of glazed duck breast in a red wine sauce with mash potato. And to conclude, I cleansed the palate with an intriguing and very refreshing “citrus soup” with segments of fruit floating in a cold, zingy broth. We dined again together on the penultimate night of competition for a pre-1,500m freestyle steak (for debatable benefits). However, it was my entrée of beef marrow served with buttered toast that was most memorable. It was the first time I had sampled the creamy gunk stored within bones – though I wouldn’t say I have become a convert. For the final team dinner, I had fried camembert (impossible not to enjoy), beef bourguignon (passable) and grapefruit curd (I think).

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As I write this entry, I’m beginning to appreciate why my bank account has depleted and my waist line expanded much faster than intended during this trip! I didn’t just reserve restaurant dining for the evenings, I also frequented bistros for multi-course lunches on most days. I justified this excessive indulgence by considering it as necessary for recovery from the swim racing (which was on some days no more than 4 laps). After paying way too much on my first day for a substandard beef bourguignon (there are few things in life I hate more than falling for a tourist trap), I ordered “lunch menus of the day” (most bistros offer changing 2-3 course set menus for a reasonable price) and simply hoped for the best as their descriptions were normally scrawled in French. My banquets included: fried calamari with fennel salad followed by pan fried white fish with ratatouille; pork terrine with cornichons followed by pan fried pork fillet with mushroom sauce and fried potatoes followed by a cheese tasting plate; blue cheese and fennel salad followed by roasted pork fillet with creamy mustard sauce and black lentils; and sashimi with pea puree and watercress, roast chicken and vegetables and poached peach with cream! Further exacerbating my bloated state after each meal, the French generously accompany every plate with a fresh bowl of baguette – which I was always compelled to finish! Amazingly, I also managed to fit in regular visits to the ubiquitous boulangeries throughout Paris for quiches and pastries (tarte aux abricots and tarte aux pommes – oh là là!), sample Breton buckwheat crepes with andouille sausage and salad, and snack on cheese and hummus (some labels of French packaged hummus are very good!) in the late afternoon. I definitely need to implement a strict pre-Christmas detox when back in Australia.

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Paris is definitely one of my highlights of this trip, both because of the unique experience of the Gay Games and general enjoyment of city life in the French capital. And perhaps also because I just really love French cuisine!

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That’s all for now,

Liam

France photos

Posted by Liamps 22:50 Archived in France Comments (1)

Paris Gay Games

No doubt many of you have enviously considered my 3 month trip to be yet another aimless adventure through Europe. While that might be an accurate reflection of my current situation, the primary impetus for my extended absenteeism was to compete as an “elite international athlete” at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris. Ok, ok, I didn’t actually need to satisfy any qualification standards to enter. Indeed, not even my sexuality was a prerequisite – anyone is welcome to participate in the Gay Games provided they support equal opportunities for LGBTI individuals in general society. But I did compete proudly for Queen and Country against people from all over the world and even claimed a medal (… albeit for participation)!

Countless people have asked me, “So, what exactly is the Gay Games?” I’m amazed that so few people are familiar with this major sporting and cultural event, which occurs quadrennially, is hosted by rotating cities, involves over 30 disciplines, 12,000 competitors, dozens of venues and a “Games Village”… and utterly dominates the media landscape! Perhaps the last point is a slight exaggeration, but otherwise the structure of the Gay Games essentially emulates the Olympics. Athletes generally compete for the LGBTI sports club they are members of (not mandatory) and the country they nominate. I competed for Australia with Melbourne’s Glamourhead Sharks, along with around 20 other team members. Some countries officially recognise and provide support for their delegations, with the Australian Government hosting a welcome event at the Paris Embassy for Australian athletes. The Gay Games were initiated in San Francisco in 1982 as a celebration of diversity and inclusion, and have since been hosted throughout North America, Western Europe and Australia (including Sydney 2002). Paris 2018 was the tenth edition of the Gay Games, with the next event scheduled to be held in Asia for the first time at Hong Kong 2022.

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I arrived in Paris two days before competition commenced to undertake some last-minute training and attend the Opening Ceremony. I stayed in an Airbnb on the periphery of Le Marais, which is the historic centre of Paris and the traditional LGBTI and Jewish neighbourhood. Naturally, the area served as the primary heart of the Games, with veritable street parties ensuing each evening. After rendezvousing with most of the Glams on the Friday night for preparatory beverages, we attempted a training session on the Saturday at a beautiful pool near Le Marais, which was overcrowded with slow swimmers who demonstrated minimal swimming etiquette. We regrouped in the evening at Stade Jean Bouin to march with Australia at the Opening Ceremony.

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While the Olympics is fundamentally a demonstration of economic power, the Parade of Nations at the Gay Games Opening Ceremony was instead symbolic of the stark political differences socially that exist throughout the world. While progressive and industrialised countries like France, UK, USA and Australia fielded enormous delegations (643 for Australia!), other advanced but more socially conservative countries like Italy, China and Japan were represented proportionally much less. Only a handful of extremely brave individuals chose to represent African and Middle Eastern countries where homosexual activity is still punishable by imprisonment or even the death penalty. When the Russian team entered the stadium, they received a standing ovation from the crowd in solidarity against the deteriorating LGBTI rights under the Putin regime. The Parade was an explicit reminder against complacency, because while rights and acceptance gradually improve in Western democracies, barbaric repression continues to endure for millions globally.

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Similar to the Olympics, the Gay Games are composed of mainstream sports, like soccer and athletics, and more eclectic events, like dancesport, petanque and speed roller skating. I opted to compete in swimming, which was held in the aquatics venue for the 1924 Paris Olympics. The semi-outdoor facility buzzed with atmosphere throughout the week, as the participating swimming clubs proudly displayed their banners and passionately cheered on their members. While there was a sense of seriousness and climax after months or years of training, there was also an overwhelming sense of camaraderie I haven’t experienced at other sporting events before. People genuinely wanted to know about their fellow competitors and encourage them to achieve their best. I competed in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle, 100m backstroke and two relay events. Although I had mixed results, I set a personal best time in the 1,500m freestyle, which I was satisfied with considering my preparation in the preceding two weeks in London, Amsterdam, Bruges and Luxembourg.

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The Games are an illustration that gay culture is far more complex than what prevailing stereotypes imply. The LGBTI community is a microcosm of our broader society, with sporting clubs and people passionate about sport, fitness and competition. This is important to understand, because for someone who does not relate to the more distinctive elements of gay culture, sporting clubs represent an opportunity to connect to the LGBTI community through a familiar forum.

The Games convey another important message: that interest in sport, both in a participatory and entertainment sense, is not the exclusive domain of a particular demographic of society or personality typology. Sport and competition are loved by people of all genders, sexualities and nationalities, so it is therefore paramount that all individuals feel adequately engaged with, encouraged and respected in discussions or participation. I think that being cognisant to this inclusion is especially important in a society where sport dominates the mainstream. And athletic prowess is certainly unnecessary for a fulfilling experience participating in sport - I am most definitely a testament to that (although watch out if you ever find me on a squash court :P)!

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Stay tuned for an entry on Paris itself!

That’s all for now,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 12:06 Archived in France Comments (0)

Lyon

Photos of France

Greetings readership! I have recently gathered there is a wrongful perception that I’m writing these entries promptly after departing the respective destinations. This is an incredibly enviable situation that I have been unable to achieve during the entire trip, due to my laziness and incapability of writing moderately worded pieces. The time difference between departing a destination and publishing an entry recently ballooned out to four weeks, though this has been reduced to seventeen days. So while this entry summarises a destination Nick and visited half way through his Euro travels, you are probably reading this simultaneous to Nick’s journey back to Australia.

We visited France’s second city of Lyon for three days immediately after our week in Paris. I was eager to experience another area of France that would be conducive to our subsequent plans and thus Lyon with its airport was selected. The Tour de France passing through the city further made Lyon an attractive proposition. Lyon is situated in the Southeast of France near the Italian region of Piedmont, which it has historical ties to. Perhaps because of this, I found Lyon to exhibit substantially more similarities to the Piedmontese capital of Turin than to Paris. Lyon is a small city with less than a million residents and it lacks grandiose architecture because it has not served as a great European capital. Consequently, I think it is suitable destination to spend a long weekend and it was the perfect antidote to attraction-overload from London and Paris. While there were many tourists in the city enjoying the glorious weather and visiting for the Tour, the lamentable mass tour groups were fortunately absent and it was a relief to escape them.

The geography of Lyon is rather unusual because the central area of the city has formed around two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. The World Heritage-listed Old Town, which is primarily a tourist zone, is situated on the eastern bank of the Saone. The topography of this area is quite mountainous, so the Old Town extends along the riverfront instead of existing in a concentric layout. The centre of modern-day Lyon is the completely flat area between the two rivers, which serves as the cultural and shopping hub of the city and features numerous monumental buildings. Further upstream of the rivers is the hilly Bohemian district of Croix Rousse that overlooks the city. The western bank of the Rhone is the financial and transportation centre of Lyon and is accordingly the least aesthetical section of the city. The Rhone and the Saone eventually join at the Lyon Confluence.

While the Lyonnais Old Town appears to be nothing more than a district specifically orientated toward tourism, this reality has failed to deter its immeasurable charm. The Saone reflects the apartment buildings that line its shore and that exhibit a multitude of colours. The streets through the Old Town are semi-pedestrianized, cobblestoned and feature medieval and Renaissance buildings. There are several picturesque churches hidden within the historic neighbourhood, including Lyon’s relatively humble cathedral. Occupying the peak of the mountain behind the old Town is Lyon’s most iconic building which can be sighted throughout the city, the Basilique de Notre Dame Fourviere. The church was constructed in the nineteenth century in exaggerated ecclesiastical architecture. The interior is excessively bombastic in its design and ornamentation and it unusually consists of two prayer halls, one above the other. The platform around the churches provides exceptional views of Lyon. The arduous hike up to the church is through a picturesque and heavily vegetated urban landscape.

The section between the Rhone and the Saone reminded me particularly of Turin. The older parts of European cities often do not feature methodical grid-like layouts, but this area of Lyon is an exception. The roads are lined with Renaissance-style apartment buildings that exhibit architecture remarkably similar to what is evident in Turin. The urban fabric is punctuated by large public squares, including the vast Place Bellecour which was the biggest in Europe until two hundred years ago. There are numerous monumental buildings with Neoclassical or Beaux Arts architecture.

Since we were already in France during the Tour, it seemed like a logical idea that we should maximise our opportunity and attempt to see the world’s most prestigious annual sporting event. The Tour fortunately passed through Lyon this year on the 13th of July and we thus planned to visit the city to coincide with this date. Around two hours before the cyclists’ anticipated entrance into central Lyon, we positioned ourselves around three kilometres from the finish at a bend in the hope of seeing a crash. Unfortunately this wish was not granted. One hour before the cyclists came through, there was a parade of floats representing the dozens of officials sponsors of the Tour. Eventually the lead cyclist passed us, although I missed seeing him as I was fiddling with my camera. Ten seconds later, the chase group flashed by. I’m not entirely sure if I saw them. Over a minute later, the huge peloton zoomed past and that was quite exciting to see, for six seconds. The stragglers intermittently came pat over the next ten minutes and it was much easier photographing them. Because we had no clue as to who was leading or who won the stage, I wasn’t really able to be amazed by the spectacle. For Nick though, seeing the Tour for an accumulated total of about fifty seconds remained the non-culinary highlight of his trip.

Lyon is touted to be the gastronomic capital of France and as such we were obliged to investigate their prodigious reputation. This required sampling offal dishes that Lyonnais cuisine is particularly renowned for. I ordered calf’s head at one restaurant, in anticipation that a crispy cow cranium would be laid before me. However, this romanticised vision was not forthcoming as I was instead served two bizarre slices of fatty and sinewy meat that was rather unpleasant to eat. But eat it I did, regardless of the gagging that transpired on the opposite side of the table. Fortunately though, this putrid dish was an exception as all other culinary endeavours were successful. The preceding entrée was substantially more palatable as I was served a generously proportioned dish of pork terrine and salami which was served with pickles and a slab of butter. We frequented a bakery in Lyon where I had an amazing slice of citrus tart and an equally delicious smoked salmon quiche. Lyonnais salad was my favourite dish in the city and featured mixed lettuce, croutons, bacon and a poached egg (obviously similar to a Caesar salad). I enjoyed a heavy serving of cheese soufflé and a wonderful chocolate fondant. On our final day in Lyon, we perused through a seemingly endless street market and loaded up with incredibly rich St. Marcellin cheese, chicken cooked on a rotisserie and a bag of potatoes which had roasted in the dripping of the chooks (mmmm).

Lyon was a pleasant break from the tourist trail that ploughs through the mega cities of Europe and I’m pleased to have experienced somewhere else in France than just Paris. The older parts of the city were very beautiful, the cuisine was intriguing and the small-scale size of Lyon afforded it a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. It was also exciting to “tick-off” seeing the Tour de France, regardless of how much of an anti-climax it was. Nevertheless, Lyon is not a city I would classify as “unmissable” and certainly does not compare with the great capitals of Europe.

1. Rome
2. Paris
3. London
4. Barcelona
5. Florence
6. Porto
7. Amsterdam
8. Venice
9. Lisbon
10. Copenhagen
11. Turin
12. Granada
13. Seville
14. Lyon
15. Madrid
16. Naples
17. Brussels
18. Palermo

Thank you for reading,

Liam

Photos of France

Posted by Liamps 05:49 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris

photos https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/Liamps/countries/France/

Paris. There is probably no destination in the world that people desire to visit more so than this outstanding city. Although I suppose Mecca surmounts a formidable challenge to that assertion, or even Goofy’s now that I have spread the word of that phenomenal establishment to the far corners of the globe. Essendon, prepare for an inundation of foreign tourist on pilgrimage to discover the Holy Grail of ultra-greasy pizzas. I have been informed though that the quintessentially Essendonian custom of “renovation” has beholden even Goofy’s. But alas I digress as always; I suppose I cannot expect to command your attention for long if I’m shilly-shallying on about a take-away joint near you (I am always staggered by the bizarre terms that Microsoft Word manages to conjure up for synonyms).Paris would probably be a more interesting topic of conversation. Certainly more so than hearing about the butcher that Nick’s grandmother buys “amazing meat” from (he randomly decided that was vital information I needed to know about as I stressfully tried to work out how to reach our train to Vienna. Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident of insufferable dribble I was condemned to listen to!). Goodness, what is happening to my attention? To be honest, I am unable to fathom why people would bother reading this entry about Paris. I cannot make any flabbergasting revelations about this universally admired city; the beauty of Paris is utterly dumbfounding, the architecture is mesmerising, the food is delectable and the culture is oh-so sophisticated. Yawn fest; everyone knows all that. I can at least express my surprise of what the Parisians are like. Europeans seem to collectively scorn the French and depict them as arrogant and rude, but personally I found the Parisians to be some of the most hospitable people I have encountered all year. This paradoxical experience was similar to when I remarked to Londoners that custom service seemed to be excellent in their city, to which they all responded, “Customer service does not exist in the United Kingdom”.

Nick and I spent one week in Paris and enjoyed spectacular sunny weather and temperatures hovering in the high twenties for the duration of our stay. This was a substantial contrast to the dreariness of London. We changed accommodation four times (so five different rooms), hopping between cheap hotels and Hyatts.

Paris is a city which has virtually achieved aesthetical perfection. Whenever I walked through the streets of Paris, I was always astonished by how flawless the city appeared and the precision of details. This is not a quaint village hidden in the mountains where heritage and tradition can easily be preserved, but one of the greatest cities in the world at the centre of a metropolitan area home to twelve million people. Paris is renowned for its collection of extraordinary art museums, but the vast central area of the city is itself a gallery of architectural brilliance; with each style of European history evident in stunning examples. Everything that visually confronts the visitor outside is in immaculate condition (although exuberant façades can hide internal deterioration as we discovered at one of the four hotels we stayed in Paris). On many of Paris’ monumental boulevards or unassuming alleys, literally all the buildings are photographic delights. I particularly admire how all buildings are attractive to look upon regardless of their purposes; the only permutation might be the differences in embellishment. Parisian parks are rigidly formal with symmetrical gardens, manicured lawns and shallow circular railings that define the areas in even the most mundane of parks. Trees that ornament streets or public spaces are specifically trimmed so their canopies feature identical heights and formations. The banks of the Seine have been completely tamed and beautified with artificial walls and decks created for leisure; the unpredictability of nature is not permitted in this strictly planned metropolis. Attention to even the most basic accessories of a modern city, such as balconies, benches, street lamps and the entranceway to subway stations, is evident as they are often prettily designed in the Art Nouveau style. There is a conspicuous absence of modern buildings in central Paris, with the exception of architectural icons such as the pyramid at the Louvre and Centre Pompidou. From my perspective, this situation is advantageous as it secures the aesthetical integrity of central Paris, but disadvantageous as it makes the city appear as though it is stuck in a perpetual pendulum of preserving the past. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that Paris is among the most beautiful cities in the world and is therefore a must-see destination.

Similar to other cities in Europe, Paris is defined particularly by its magnificent river the Seine. The Seine meanders through the city and exquisitely reflects the parade of monumental buildings on its banks. These include the masterpiece of French Gothic architecture the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the medieval Royal residence of the Conciergerie, the sprawling palace of the Louvre, the spectacular Beaux Arts building that houses the Museu d’Orsay, the imposing Hotel de Invalides that was established for injured military personnel and obviously the Eiffel Tower. Visitors are thus forced compelled to pass the Seine regularly since many of Paris’ attractions are located in its vicinity; though that hardly becomes a burden. Nick and I boarded a vessel for an open-deck cruise along the Seine at sunset, though we were unfortunately joined by hundreds of those grotesque beings, the tourists. While they endeavoured to ruin all my photographs, they were unable to completely spoil the occasion.

Improvements to the urban landscape of Paris in the nineteenth century were intended to beautify the city and to exude the imperial importance of the French capital. Consequently, spacious and symmetrical boulevards were implemented throughout the urban fabric, which has made Paris remarkably easy to navigate considering its size. Many of these boulevards cross the Seine on splendid bridges that are marked by golden statues on either bank. They also intersect or terminate at glorious squares that often feature monuments such as obelisks or equestrian statues to demonstrate the military achievements of the nation. The most iconic example of this is obviously the Champs Elysees leading to the Arc de Triomphe, which was larger than what I expected. The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon I (although it was completed after his downfall) to venerate the imperial status of Paris and the conquests of France. However, there are no such monuments to France’s numerous military capitulations.

Paris is strewn with a litany of magnificent churches that exhibit a variety of architectural styles. The Cathedral of Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle are outstanding representations of French Gothic architecture. Both structures are located on an island in the Seine where Paris was originally founded. Notre Dame has been the symbol of the French capital for nearly a thousand years and all geographical locations in the modern metropolis are measured relative to this building. It was tremendous to see the iconic exterior of Notre Dame, though I was somewhat underwhelmed by the interior. I thought the cavernous space was surprisingly dark considering the existence of stained-glass windows and it seriously lacked in impressive ornamentation. Perhaps I’ve visited a few too many churches this year and have become as painfully critical as Nick. However, I was flabbergasted by Sainte Chapelle, which features what is surely one of the finest displays of stained glass windows in Christendom. The building appears to be rather insignificant from the outside, but the visitor is treated to an opulent spectacle of light once in the constituent chapel. The high walls of the chapel are almost completely composed of stained glass windows that light the space up intensely in a myriad of colours. The windows showcase Christian or royal depictions in incredible detail. Sacre Couer is probably the next most recognisable church in Paris. It occupies a hilltop in the Montmartre district, which therefore allows the building to be sighted throughout Paris while providing spectacular views of the city also. The highly symmetrical design of Sacre Couer emphasises verticality in its relative slenderness and is dominated by a central dome that is flanked by domes on either side. The building is entirely white and surrounded by vividly coloured gardens. I also visited the Romanesque church Eglise St. Germain des Pres, the oldest surviving church in Paris, and Eglise St. Sulpice, an opulent and monumental Italianate building.

The most visited payed-attraction in the world is the Eiffel Tower, but Nick and I chose not to be a part of that statistic. Fear not readers though, for one is not required to dispense of euros to glance at this marvellous structure; so obligatory photographs of the tower and the beard were indeed taken. Similar to my reasoning for not climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I figured that I was in Paris specifically to see the tower and not to pay an exorbitant fare to be on it. For our week in Paris, Nick and I enjoyed spectacular weather with blue skies constantly, which thus contributed to the quality of my especially original shots of the Eiffel Tower. We visited the tower in the daylight and I was awed by the sight of this incredible and internationally famous structure. We saw the tower on the cruise and I was bedazzled by the vivid orange-brown colour it exuded at sunset. We returned to the tower for the evening spectacle when it shimmers in sparkling lights at 11:00pm and this was when I thought the tower was at its aesthetical best. This was also the evening when Nick managed to barter for a bottle of Champagne for three euros. It was utterly putrid.

Can it be possible to visit Paris without ever seeing the Mona Lisa? Well I was not prepared to prove whether that was possible. The Lonely Planet guide for Western Europe claims that it would take nine months to see everything in the Louvre, but we opted to attempt to cover the enter museum in a day. Despite being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the palace (which is far more impressive than Buckingham), six hours was sufficient to explore the entire institution thoroughly (well, “rapidly” would be a more apt descriptive term). I refuse to be someone that laments that the Mona Lisa is “smaller than you expect”, because the dimensions appeared to be exactly what I had read they were. I devoted most of my time to viewing the huge collection of paintings as I have very limited interest in sculpture. I also visited the Museu d’Orsay, which is on the opposite side of the Seine from the Louvre. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the vast collection of Monet works but was wholly uninspired by the rest. Surprisingly the Museum of the Army at the Hotel National des Invalides was my favourite in Paris and one of the best I have ever visited. The Hotel National des Invalides was established by the Sun King Louis XIV in 1670 as an initiative to support injured soldiers. The most distinguishing feature of this sprawling complex is the Baroque dome which dominates the local skyline. Nick and I thought we were paying an extortionate price to view specifically the tomb for Napoleon I, but such concerns were quenched by the marvellously detailed exhibitions that particularly focused on the Napoleonic Wars, diplomacy in the eighteenth century and the World Wars. Napoleon’s body rests in a colossal coffin that is situated in a monumental circular space below the constituent dome.

The Palace of Versailles is regarded as the grandest palatial complex in all of Europe. It was constructed by Louis XIV in the seventeenth century to serve as the new seat of governance and to consolidate his absolutist rule over France. It initially served as a royal hunting lodge and it is thus located on the outer suburbs of Paris. We idiotically chose to visit Versailles on a Tuesday, when the primary museums in Paris are closed and tourists flock to the palace. Consequently, we were queuing for three hours before we were able to enter the sprawling buildings of the palace. The symmetrical Baroque architecture of the palace is evocative of the French ruler’s absolutist power. Visitors tour through a selection of sumptuously decorated rooms, which include several vast halls. Surrounding the palace are the Baroque gardens with rigidly symmetrical designs, two artificial canals that perpendicularly intersect and “woods” which have been artificially tamed and bordered. The grounds of the palace seem to extend endlessly as the colossal palace gradually becomes a small blip on the horizon.

I also visited Paris’ spectacular Beaux Arts Palais Garnier (the Opera House), but I cannot be bothered writing about it so please proceed to the photos!

The first dish I ate in Paris gave me inflated expectations for (affordable) French cuisine in the capital, such was its delectability. After selecting a dish randomly from the French language menu, I was rewarded with slices of succulent duck that was served with apple puree and astonishing thinly sliced and sautéed potatoes. Subsequent meals in Paris failed to match that impeccably high standard (one of the best dishes of the year), although that was probably because everywhere else we ate at also had English menus. We were blessed with superb weather all week in Paris, so on our first full day we joined the hordes of locals enjoying picnics in their stylish parks. We bought baguettes, rich brie (the best I’ve ever eaten), aubergine and caviar dip, salami and green olives from the vendors in the trendy Latin Quarter. At a café in Bastille, I successfully employed the random selection strategy once more and enjoyed scallops with green leaf salad and pea puree for entrée and a lamb casserole with vegetables for main. Alert Peter Stevens: Look away NOW! One of my favourite dishes I had in France was Beef tartar, which is raw minced meat (not like the package variety from Coles!) usually served with condiments mixed through (i.e. capers, pesto etc.). From this I discovered that I prefer beef to be completely raw. So please cut my slices off the roast before you put it in the oven, Mum! I ordered entrecote steak because I was intrigued by the name, but it was just a sinewy cut of meat. I had confit duck which was decent and with the same delicious sautéed potatoes. I love how Dijon mustard (much tangier in France) is placed on every table in French eateries. I love how a basket of bread accompanies every dish. And I love the ubiquitous crepe stands in the Parisians streets that sell mouth-watering crepes with butter and sugar for two dollars. But when it comes to the crunch, dare I say I enjoyed food more in London than Paris?

I always expected Paris would be the serious threat to Rome for the coveted first place in Liam’s favourite cities in Europe ranking system. It was ultimately unsuccessful. However, Paris is too beautiful and too glorious to be ranked any lower than second, a position the French have become accustomed to across history anyway. It should be remembered that this ranking system is purely from a touristic perspective. While Paris is a visually stimulating city, I did not find it all that enticing to live in. I asked a Parisian in London why she did not want to return to the City of Light and she responded that Paris is “stuck in time”, while London is constantly changing and evolving. Now that I have visited both, I can certainly appreciate that assertion. The problem with Paris is that its too perfect.

1. Rome
2. Paris
3. London
4. Barcelona
5. Florence
6. Porto
7. Amsterdam
8. Venice
9. Lisbon
10. Copenhagen
11. Turin
12. Granada
13. Seville
14. Madrid
15. Naples
16. Brussels
17. Palermo

I have just discovered that gobbledygook is a legitimate word, according to Microsoft anyway. So I shall now endeavour to incorporate gobbledygook into every subsequent entry! I’ll probably (and conveniently) forget though.

Tutulu,

Liam

photos https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/Liamps/countries/France/

Posted by Liamps 16:23 Archived in France Comments (1)

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