Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Oh La La! We Are In Paris... Our Day Thirteen... by Montreal photographer Hera Bell and her husband Anthony

Yesterday we returned to Montparnasse Tower in the evening.

Usually I like to travel near the end of Spring.  A great time, as the weather is usually good but not too hot, the tourists have not yet completely taken over, and the days are longer.

Unfortunately, this time, the weather did not comply, it was often cool and wet.  But even worse, Paris is quite north and thus the days are very long.  Sunset is close to 10 pm, and the gorgeous Paris lights do not get turned on until after 10.  So I would suggest to travel in September for Paris.  We’ve been here in September and that offers good weather, and the lights get turned on much earlier.

High on Montparnasse Tower, we had a spectacular view of Paris as the sun was setting.  And then, at 10pm, the Eiffel tower shimmers in sparkling lights for 5 minutes before the regular lights light it up.  I believe at at the top of each hour, it shimmers again for 5 minutes.  

As usual, we started our day with a croissant a piece.  But we also shared a Flan, and a scrumptious millefeuille.  The French do know how to make pastry, and do not deprive yourself.  Go ahead and indulge

Off to the Opera Garnier, we bought our entrance tickets and then walked in.  Grand is an understatement.  The entrance with the grand staircase is as large as the auditorium.   The architect purposely designed the staircase to show off women in their long gowns at their very best.  

Lovely balconies are found overlooking the grand entranceway as he knew that “being seen” was of utmost importance.

The plush red velvet was also chosen on purpose.  The reflected red would leave a highly complementary pink blush on the skin of women.  Again, showing the women off at their very best.

We do forget that the times have changed.  Today, going to the Opera is a serious affair.  While just a century ago, it was much less for the Opera, and more the social outing.  Seeing and being seen was at least as important, perhaps more so, than the performance on stage.

Taking our turn to be seen, we took a seat at the Opera cafe, and enjoyed a drink.  We sat back and relaxed.

Back on our feet, we came across the Pierre Herme  pastry shop.  We had met a charming Australian couple the night before at Montparnasse Tower who raved about it.  So we bought a couple of macarons to give it a try.  They were indeed wonderful.

We walked about the neighborhood, and came to the Ritz, but we were disappointed that it was completely closed and is being renovated.  A pity, as it would have been lovely to walk inside for a glimpse.
Besides seeing the Opera house, another goal of ours today was to try out Angelina   on rue Rivoli.



Decisions decisions.  So hard to choose.  I decided to go for the house specialty, the Mont Blanc while Hera went for the St. Honore, they were scrumptious!  Although I think if I was to choose again, I should have tried a millefeuille here.  We also each had a cup of hot African Chocolate, that was like drinking the best chocolate imaginable.  

So much sweets today!  And like I said before, I do not have a sweet tooth!  But that does not matter when in Paris.

While we walked about, we came across a shop that claims to be the best chocolate shop in Paris.  With a life size jaguar made out of chocolate in one window display, while the next window had huge ribs made out of chocolate.  The interior looked divine.  But with so much sweets today, we just could not give it a try.


A good day of walking and eating sweets, we finally settled down at a bistro and had our supper.  Hera just wanted a Greek salad, while I went for the special of the day, Dui du Boucher, a piece of beef and a piece of veal, with a lovely pepper sauce on the side.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Oh La La! We Are In Paris... Our Day Eleven... by Montreal photographer Hera Bell and her husband Anthony

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Oh La La! We Are In Paris... Our Day Ten... by Montreal photographer Hera Bell and her husband Anthony

  Today we were off to Vaux le Vicomte.

If there is only one day trip you can make, you must see Vaux le Vicomte.  While everyone goes to Versailles, and the throngs of tourists attest to it, Vaux le Vicomte is a bit harder to get to, but well worth the slight effort.

There is the slower RER-D train that takes about 50 minutes, or the faster one-stop train to Melun that leaves from the Gare de Lyons that takes less than  30 minutes.  The train ticket costs about 8.10 Euro one way, and then one takes a taxi from the train station to the Vaux le Vicomte.  (Going there costed us 22.50, returning costed us 27.50)

It really is not that hard or complicated to do.  One can also take one of the tours as well.
No matter how you do it, you ought to go.

On its own, Vaux le Vicomte is a must see.  But what adds so much more are the stories that swirl around it.

Step back in time, young Louis the XIV is a child, a regent king.  There is friction between the Nobles and the Monarchy as well as between Parliament and the Monarchy.  Over a 5 year period a series of civil wars break out called La Fronde.  Young Louis’ advisors continually reminded him that the Nobles are not to be trusted, and that they want to steal from the King.

One Noble, the minister Nicolas Fouquet, was a loyal supporter of the King during La Fronde, and was instrumental for saving the government from going bankrupt.  He was born into wealth, and amassed even more during his career.


He bought a piece of property outside of Paris.  Already one of the greatest patron of the arts at the time, Fouquet hired three amazing artists, along with many others.  The architect Le Vau, the gardener Le Notre, and the painter Le Brun.  As well as the Chef Gerard Depardieu.  No actually it was Vatel, but there is a delightful movie called “Vatel” with Gerard Depardieu that I will later suggest you see.

The three worked very closely together, and as a result created a unified spectacular creation that was Vaux le Vicomte.  With its creation, the French Garden was more or less created, and then spread across Europe.  In the past, a table to eat was brought out wherever people happened to be, but it is here, that a room was set aside to dine in, and thus the Dining Room was created.


Court intrigue always existed, and it existed here as well.  Colbert not only envied Fouquet, and sought after his position, he was intent on destroying Fouquet, and having the King’s ear, placed doubts of Fouquet’s loyalty and honesty.  Fouquet on his part, being so loyal and more or less saving the country from bankruptcy had hoped to be made head of government.  

When the head of government Mazarin died, King Louis XIV astounded the court by stating that he would be his own chief advisor.  Without being accountable to parliament or anyone, Absolute Monarchy was being created.

Fouquet should have noted the approaching storm clouds.  Perhaps he thought his loyal and illustrious record would keep him in the King’s favor.

In any case, in August of 1661, Fouquet was going to host the King.  He was excitedly nervous, but his fate had already been decided a few months earlier.

They arrived at the entrance of a spectacular house.  The three arched entrances had grills allowing one to see right through the house to the spectacular gardens behind, with the statue of Hercules in the distance.



They toured the magnificent house.
  Wonderful paintings, exquisite furniture, sumptuous wall hangings, even the King did not live in such luxury.  Stepping outside the geometric gardens was a feast for the eyes.  Fountains everywhere, the entourage walked down the central path towards the Grotto and Statue of Hercules.  Squeals of delight erupt as they discover that there is another lower level of gardens that could not at first be seen.  And as the walk towards the Grotto and Statue of Hercules, they seem to recede even further as another level is again is exposed.
Fireworks, a play by Moliere add to it all.

Fouquet goes to bed the happiest man in the world.  But is soon arrested by D’Artagnan (of three musketeers’ fame) and is imprisoned for the rest of his life next to the Man in the Iron Mask.

The King takes most of the furniture, artwork and tapestries, along with Le Brun, Le Notre and Le Vau, and creates what will become Versailles.

The story of Vaux le Vicomte after the arrest of Fouquet, almost being lost on numerous occasions and saved in the nick of time is a lovely story as well, but I will let you look elsewhere for it.

Suffice it to say, it is not over the top opulence, and it actually feels that it was a “home.”  Grand and illustrious, it is not pretentious.  It is, a piece of art in its own right.  A work that you must see.

Movies to see include "Vatel"   with Gerard Depardieu and “"Man In The Iron Mask"   with DiCaprio.

Photographer's note: Photos in this particular blog day are a mixture of images I have shot in 2004 with a Canon 10D and in 2014 during this second visit with Lumix GH2.