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France / Writing

people watching by the Panthéon

Made it back to Paris from Versailles at around half-past six and headed to the Panthéon, unfortunately, it was already closed when we arrived. The Panthéon is a church and mausoleum, a Neoclassical structure originally built by Louis XV for St. Genevieve. Pierre & Marie Curie, Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, and many other French personalities are resting here. It was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome.

With nothing else planned for the evening, we just sat and people watched. The surrounding buildings in front of Place du Pantheon, I believe, are parts of La Sorbonne.

Dinner at the flat: store-bought caprese and a quiche from a neighborhood patisserie.

Place du Panthéon, 5e
Metro: Cardinal Lemoine / RER: Luxembourg
Daily 10am-6pm (last entrance 5:15pm)
7€ adults, 4.50€ ages 18-25, free for children 17 below
Covered by the Paris Museum Pass

Food / France / Writing

Angelina at Versailles

Angelina is an old-fashioned Parisian tea salon and according to numerous sources, it serves the best hot chocolate in Paris. From a tiring day of walking at The Louvre, Tuileries, and Place de la Concorde, we walked the stretch of Rue de Rivoli only to find the place closed. Luckily, Angelina is also at Chateau de Versailles and we had no problems finding it this time around.

I am a coffee person and I do not usually care for hot chocolate, but this luscious pot of chocolat l’Africain really is something. Chocolat l’Africain with creme Chantilly, good for two people.

A’s chestnut cream cake called the Montblanc– meringue, whipped cream, and creme chantilly filling with chestnut cream.

My millefeuille, layers of puff pastry with custard / pastry cream.

Millefeuille literally translates to a thousand sheets, and it indeed has so many flaky layers.
so flaky

Pavillon d’Orleans
Chateau de Versailles
78000 Versailles, France

France / Writing

the grandeur of Chateau de Versailles

We did not have a good start to this day, woke up later than we planned and ended up reaching Versailles at almost noon. It was a 20-kilometer trip via the suburban RER (RER C, around €6,20 round trip).

The size of the chateau grounds is indeed daunting, and we did not dare and attempt to see most of everything. Apart from the massive chateau, the gardens are more than 100 hectares. There are also canals, the Grand Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s estate, several statues, Orangerie, colonnades, the French Pavillion.

Walking to the palace entrance, to the royal Gate. 260 feet long adorned with 100,000 gold leaves.
entrance to Chateau de Versailles

If you plan to visit, either come very early or late, round closing time. If you don’t then you most probably have to endure this. Truth be told, the waiting time is not ridiculously long, the line is relatively fast moving, but seeing this queue… it probably is the longest queue I ever had to be on.

the long queue at Versailles

Some other snaps while waiting

A toutes les gloires de la France

Finally in! Palace courtyard.

Versailles grounds

the Sun King Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette’s portraits
Louis and Marie-Antoinette

The Royal Chapel and one of the displays in the throne exhibition
Royal Chapel and the throne exhibition

La Grand Galerie, Hall of Mirrors
La Grande Galerie at Versailles

Versailles probably set the standard of court life in those days. The extravagance is ridiculous, and even visible to the public eye. In the days of the Ancien Régime, peasants were free to enter the premises and gawk at the nobles. Even dining became such a spectacle, as commoners are allowed to watch the royals eat, several cloches of fine French food lay at their table while the peasants had barely anything to eat.

The King’s and Queen’s Chambers
The King's chambers at Versailles

The Queen's chambers

Versailles is a huge complex, and we only visited the main palace. Here is one area from the lovely gardens.
Versailles gardens

Books / Writing

Reading: The Amateur Gourmet

I have been reading more frequently now, mostly memoirs. Going back to reading somehow activated a part of my brain with distracting thoughts, including delusions of writing my own memoir someday, being fully aware that it will be severely uninteresting.

The Amateur Gourmet

The most recent book I’ve finished is Adam RobertsAmateur Gourmet which I enjoyed.

One of my favorite parts from the book was when Adam met up with food critic Ruth Reichl to talk about the ways of fine dining.

The Sixth Commandment: Be Intelligently Critical
The waiter exits and Ruth tastes. The salad immediately fails her scrutiny.
“This isn’t good,” she says matter-of-factly. “The corn isn’t good– it’s starchy, it doesn’t have much flavor.”
I taste too and nod my agreement.
“Whatever flavor it has,” she continues, “is obscured by the goat cheese, the chanterelles, and the nuts.”
The prognosis is thoughtfully delivered and done so in a way that justifies her status as a great arbiter of taste. She’s articulate in a way that most diners aren’t because they don’t know how to be. Her pronouncements are those of a good writer: they are specific. She doesn’t say “yummy” or “bad.” She says “the corn is starchy” and “the flavor is obscured.” She knows her field, she knows how to analyze, she knows how to be critical.
And this is true of anyone who’s passionate about a subject. Ask a movie buff what he thinks of the new Almodovar film and he’ll answer you with great enthusiasm and flair. Ask a wrestling fan how he feels about cage matches, and he’ll wax lyrical for hours. The lesson is that once you care about food, once you care about dining, you will pay more attention. Understand why some dishes succeed while others fail, notice how a dish is composed, what flavors it contains, how those flavors are contrasted, the freshness of the ingredients, the level of seasoning, the overall balance. Once you start noticing these things your ability to judge a restaurant on its merits will improve immeasurably. Ruth Reichl got to where she is because she paid attention. She pays attention now and I attempt to do the same.


And so from here on out I will also attempt to do the same. Such a nice takeaway for this writing space.

France / Writing

Walking along Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe

From La Sainte Chapelle we headed to Place de la Concorde, which is at the far end of Champs-Élysées.

Place de la Concorde used to be Place de la Révolution, the square where they hold the executions during the revolution. More than 2,700 people were guillotined here, including Queen Marie Antoinette. The guillotine is no longer, and two fountains were built at the square. They have become the iconic fountains of Paris. They were modelled after Roman fountains at St. Peter’s Square and Piazza Navona. Just between the two fountains is the 3,300 year-old Luxor Obelisk, a gift from the Egyptian government to France. It used to mark the entrance of the Luxor Temple.

Place de la Concorde

From Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe is at the other end of the 3.2 kilometre stretch of Champs-Élysées. We originally planned on walking but the sun was blazing and we were simply too tired. Took the metro and got off at Charles de Gaule – Etoile.
Tip: don’t cross the roundabout to get to Arc de Triomphe. There is an underground pedestrian passageway. A group of elderly American ladies attempted to cross in the middle of bustling traffic, needless to say it caused quite a spectacle, with the gendarmes yelling at them and all.
Champs Elysees

Ac de Triomphe

The Paris Museum Pass covers the entrance to the Arc. (A ticket would normally cost 9€.) We took the stairs 284 steps up. There is a gift shop and a couple of exhibitions at the mezzanine area.

inside the Arc de Triomphe

atop the Arc de Triomphe

Twelve main avenues converge at Arc de Triomphe.

Baron Haussmann absolutely planned this city so well. Note that the buildings almost look the same, and are of the same height.
view from Arc de Triomphe

view from Arc de Triomphe

view from Arc de Triomphe

Seeing this made me smile!
sweet moment at Arc de Triomphe

Arc De Triomphe
Place Charles de Gaulle
Metro: Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile

France / Writing

amazing light and color at La Sainte-Chapelle

I have been to many grand churches in the past and I could say for sure that Sainte-Chapelle is by far the most magnificent. Originally built to house the relics from the True Cross and the crown of thorns, the chapel is near Notre Dame de Paris, by the Palais Justice and Conciergerie complex. It might be much smaller than the grand churches of Paris, and the exterior is modest and fairly simple, but the interior is an overwhelming vision of light and color.

La Sainte Chapelle

I once read parts of Alice Steinbach’s travel memoir Without Reservations and it made mention of Sainte-Chapelle, as one of the most unforgettable sights in Paris. “You must stand in the light.” I knew I had to go.

The big crowd did not allow me to bathe in the light and immerse in the place’s grandness and stillness, it was still so lovely nonetheless.

Sainte Chapelle stained glass

The stained glass windows contain 1,134 scenes depicting the Christian story, from The Creation to The Apocalypse. To me they do not appear visible enough to be viewed from the ground level, perhaps one needs to stay in a better vantage point.
La Sainte Chapelle stained glass
la Sainte Chapelle rose window

It still looked extraordinary even with half of the panels under restoration– notice that the other half is darker than the right. Thankfully no scaffolding when we were there.

Open every day
1-Mar to 31-Oct: 9:30am to 6pm
1-Nov to 28-Feb: 9am to 5pm
15-May to 15-Sept: last admission at 9 pm.
Cashdesks close 30 minutes earlier
Admission 8 euros, covered by the Paris Museum Pass

France / Writing

visiting the Musée du Louvre

The Louvre is one of the world’s biggest and most visited museums with a massive 35,000 piece collection. It will take you 100 days without any breaks to look at each piece for 30 seconds.

We transferred accommodations and now stay at the Chatelet area, 1st arrondisement, which is much closer to the Louvre but thanks to our bad sense of direction, we still got lost on the way to the museum, wasting an hour or two trying to figure out how to get there.

We finally reached the museum, stayed for a bit outside to take pictures and people-watch.
Louvre and I.M. Pei's pyramid

outside the Louvre

La Pyramide, and La Pyramide Inversée, made popular by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. The Carrousel du Louvre is by this area, below the Louvre. Plenty of gift shops, an Apple store, McDonald’s, and a really fancy paid WC which I really liked.

La Pyramide Inversee

Louvre pyramide

I am really not credible enough to provide definitive directions, which piece can be found in which floor or wing, Denon, Richelieu, or Sully… the place was disorienting to say the least, we just walked around semi-aimlessly prioritizing a few pieces we want to see.

me and A

The Grecian pieces. Venus de Milo (Aphrodite, 100 BC) is one of the most popular sculptures. Found in 1820 in the the Greek island Melos (now Milo) – it is one of the few rare Greek originals, as most Grecian statues are actually Roman copies.

Venus de Milo
Another one of the most popular Greek originals – The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike of Samothrace, 190 BC). The windblown details of the gown, and the stance, I find so striking. We spent a long time gazing at this piece. Said to be created to commemorate a naval victory in Rhodes. One of the detached hands are also on display at the Louvre.
Winged Victory

Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks, and his Mona Lisa.
Madonna on the Rocks and the Mona Lisa

These are the people photographing the Mona Lisa (La Joconde)

people photographing the Mona Lisa

A couple viewing the massive painting opposite the Mona Lisa – Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana. The scene where Jesus turned water into wine.
Paolo Veronese's Wedding at Cana

I really wanted to see this Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple), from the Coldplay record cover (ha-ha). It also inspired the Statue of Liberty.
Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People

Other pieces I wanted to see but we couldn’t find them: Cupid & Psyche, The Code of Hammurabi, Egyptian antiquities.

After seeing another dizzying number of art pieces, rested at one of the benches at the Jardins des Tuilieries, just outside the Louvre. Watched a pair of lovers sprawled like so.

Musée du Louvre
Open everyday except Tuesdays, 9AM – 6PM
Wednesdays & Fridays 9AM – 9:45PM
75058 Paris – France
Métro: Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre
+33 (0)140205317

France / Writing

browsing through Shakespeare and Company

From Notre Dame we crossed the bridge to the Left Bank to get to Shakespeare and Company, the cosy little English-language bookshop in the academic Quartier Latin.

Shakespeare & Company

Shakespeare and Company has been around since 1951, and since then the bookstore has been hosting writers in exchange for a couple of hours of voluntary work. It has provided shelter to some 50,000 people now.
Shakespeare & Co.

The shop is full of new books as well as used ones. Apparently, there are also 8 makeshift beds all over the place, for the writers to sleep in.
inside Shakespeare & Company

A is one of the biggest literature lovers I know and she purchased a hardbound book here. I confess that I am sort of a mild hoarder of books, mostly of the travel and food literature variety, but I find the prices here rather steep, perhaps the markup is mostly because of the location and nostalgia. At this point, I’m perfectly fine scouring the Booksale outlets back home.

One of my favorite movies, Before Sunset, filmed here so it makes the place quite special as well.

Shakespeare and Company
37 rue de la Bûcherie 75005 Paris
Weekdays: 10am – 11pm; Weekends: 11am – 11pm
Metro: St. Michel / Cluny / Sorbonne
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France / Writing

The grand Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

The Notre Dame Cathedral is possibly the other iconic structure defining Paris, next to the Eiffel Tower. Located at the small island Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, it is literally at the center of Paris. Notre Dame means “Our Lady” in French, and it is one of the first Gothic cathedrals in the world. Its construction began in 1163, only to be finished almost a hundred years later.
Notre Dame de Paris facade
Notre Dame de Paris

Point Zero and our matching granny socks (it was cold out the day we visited). The center of France and the site where all distances are measured.
Point Zero

The facade and view from the side– the flying buttresses support the roof.
Notre Dame de Paris, buttresses and facade

The cathedral interiors. It is ten stories high and can fit 6,000 worshippers.
Notre Dame Interiors
pilgrims at Notre Dame

During the Second World War, it was feared that the Germans would bomb the church and destroy the stained glass windows, hence they were taken down during the war.
Notre Dame South Rose window
Notre Dame de Paris

The nave (L), and one of the side aisles (R).
Notre Dame de Paris naves
Notre Dame de Paris interiors

There is no admission fee to go inside the cathedral, however it costs 8€ to go up the tower (covered by the Paris Museum Pass). It is 400 steps up, no lift. If you are fit enough to go up the stairs, you shall be rewarded with a nice view of the city from Paris’s center. Pictured, Eiffel and environs, and the Sacré Cœur on hilly Montmartre.
view from Notre Dame
view from Notre Dame

Quasimodo’s friends. The chimera / chimères, from the Galerie des Chimères are not to be confused with gargoyles. They actually function as rainspouts.

One of the more popular chimères, Stryga

Angel watching over Paris,and another chimère
Notre Dame de Paris chimeres

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Metro: Cité / Hotel de Ville / St. Michel
Rue du Cloître Notre-Dame 75004 Paris

France / Writing

Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb at Les Invalides

Les Invalides used to be a hospital (Hôpital des Invalides) and a home for injured soldiers. It is now a building complex of museums, churches, and monuments mostly dedicated to France’s war history.

The most notable thing about the place is the Dome des Invalides (Église du Dôme), one of the two churches in the complex and the resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Little Corporal who shaped France’s history as the great conqueror who invaded most of Europe, in a short span of five years.


The ‘hole’ right beneath the dome of the chapel, perhaps rebuilt this way so visitors can lean over the railing and bow down to France’s great emperor
Invalides hole

Napoleon’s body was exhumed from the grave in 1840 and transported to the Chapel, right under the dome. It was still perfectly preserved after 19 years. Underneneath this sarcophagus (stone coffin), there are six more concentric coffins before you can actually get to Napoleon’s remains (oak, ebony, lead [2], mahogany, tinplate).
Napoleon's sarcophagus

Adolf Hitler looked up to Napoleon, and even shed a tear or two when he visited his resting place, on his first and only trip to France. Alas, history repeated itself, and Hitler fell the same way Napoleon did, by attempting to invade Russia.

Napoloen declared himself as the emperor of Rome, and here is a statue depicting him as one. Other photo: kids visiting the chapel
Holy Roman Emperor Napoleon

Charles de La Fosse’s dome
Charles de la Fosse's dome
Invalides Dome

This private royal chapel was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica and I can very well see the similarities
Invalides private royal chapel

Other war heroes as well as Napoleon’s two brothers and son are also buried in this chapel.

The chapel is very solemn, even if there aren’t any pews indicating that mass is being celebrated here. People are discouraged to make any unnecessary noise. A & I were exhausted because we fought the cold the entire day. We spent most of the time sitting and resting. I think I even fell asleep.

Due to lack of time (and it was closing time besides), we failed to visit the actual Musee de l’Armee. This is a vast museum for those who are interested not only in France’s history, but also in the military history of the world– it contains exhibits from early war history to the more recent World Wars 1 and 2.

For the evening, we head to Champs-Élysées for dinner and a bit of shopping.

Les Invalides
129 rue de Grenelle (near Musee Rodin)
Metro: La Tour Maubourg, Varenne, Invalides