Thursday, November 15, 2012

France - A Land of Contrasts

Legends and folklore abound. The ritual upon returning from an overseas visits, the last act before boarding the airplane we usually buy a book of an interesting country, which will become our next exploration destination. It started coming back from London when we bought a book about Italy and in Rome we bought a book about France. And in Paris we bought books about…France. I am not sure if that means we will be back or whether we enjoyed France so much we wanted more and took a little back with us. And then if you ask M why France she will tell you that I asked her what she wanted for our 30th anniversary, that she said France and I, seeing that I asked, had no option but to oblige. Whichever way you look at it…   

France is a series of contrasts. Like a recommended good wine you can sniff it, breath it, twirl it, hold it up against the light, look at its legs, its color and brightness, but you cannot say whether it is a dud, a diamond or the entire collection of crown jewels until you taste it. France is a collection of crown jewels. I’ve tasted France with all my senses and I loved it. My best and most varied travel destination to date.

From the simple, but elegant street lights of Paris to the over-the-top extravagance of Versailles. From the medieval ruggedness of Les Baux-de-Provence’s stone village high in the Luberon mountains to the regal style leisure living in the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley.. From the bareness of the Romanesque Cathedral of Our Lady of Nazareth in Vaison-la-Romaine to the gilded flamboyance of Eglise Sainte Pierre in Avignon’s walled city in the shadow of the ginormous stony and characterless Palais des Papes.

Architectural Candy Store 

History oozes from every nook and cranny in France. The range of architectural delights varied from Roman and Medieval to Baroque and Neoclassical and they were all breathtaking. In Paris M and I were two kids in an architectural candy store. No matter which corner you turn in central Paris there will be something to please the eye. It could be a cozy spot for people-watching or a beautiful water fountain or statue. Sometimes on a “relatively dull” street you will find one or two buildings with exceptional balcony treatments or corner pieces and at other times just crossing one of the 37 bridges in Paris will provide a photogenic opportunity of the Seine and its surroundings. There were no dull moments for the eye and the senses in Paris.

The Hotel de Ville at dusk, which isn’t a hotel but the offices of Paris’s city government.

And if you do not have a particular interest in architecture or history, do window shopping. Aah, the good eats! The wares in the windows of boulangeries (bakeries), pastry shops and chocolatiers are like art pieces. Every morning in Paris and Avignon I would go and buy fresh croissants at a boulangerie for breakfast. The croissants in France are simply to die for. They are crispier and flakier than here in the States and the consistency in quality across all of France is amazing. On two or three occasions M had a Pain au Chocolat instead of a croissant, but I am just not that much of a chocoholic to have it for breakfast.

It rained on several days in Paris. Mostly waves of drizzle with short dry and open sky patches in between, but nevertheless still cool to cold. It never prevented us from being out on the streets. Gatskuur! Without the rain it was actually nice walking weather. And walked we did! 


The gilded Fame at Pond Alexander III is very much expressing our sentiments with the weather too, angrily pointing its sword to the heavens and the clouds in defiance of the on-then-off-again rain while barely controlling the mythical winged horse, Pegasus.    

Chateau de Chambord, the monstrosity of a castle built by Francois I (1494-1547).
It’s huge, intriguing, artistic, and fascinating. 

In the Loire valley it didn’t rain but poured most of the time, but again, it didn’t prevent us from cruising the country roads in our tiny Renault Modus, which actually provides a very nice ride, and visiting the chateaus. Only once we arrived in Avignon did we experience the famous Provençal bienvenue of sunshine, warmth and color other than grey and black.

Scenes from Provence

If I had to summarize France into a single point of remembrance then it is the sheer audacity, and I use this word with great respect, of the French people, especially in Paris, to build such extravagantly beautiful and detailed decorated buildings from the 18th to the 21st century. The monstrous and imposing but beautiful Arc de Triomphe or the richly gilded and artistically decorated Opera House is classic examples of this love of the French for all things beautiful and attractive.

The Paris Opera House

Paris is not just another city and neither is France just another vacation destination. It is an experience to behold, like a start of a dangerous affair, a love you always want to have and feel around you, but not able to have or contain in any way. My two weeks has left no mark or footsteps on the ancient streets of France, but its streets, people, culture, food and history has been tattooed in my mind.

 Night fall at the Place de la Concorde, and picture perfect representation of Paris.
Old, new, elegant, innovative, all boldly mixed together. A 3,300 year old Luxor obelisk mingles easily with elegant street lights and while a delicately crafted water fountain provides sparkle, the Eiffel Tower provides the iconism.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Last Autumn Colors - Part II

Last week it was too cold for a walk down to the pond. Yesterday, although windy, was probably one of our last nice days for a while. From here on freezing weather or thereabout is in our future.

Reeds in the Wind.

Under the Big Tree
Empty Chairs at the Pond

Blazing November

Nag ou grote.