Thursday Doors – Victoria

This week we’re taking a look at a couple of doors at Hatley Castle, a National Historic Site located on the grounds of Royal Roads University.

The property of this historic site includes several buildings and formal gardens, as well as first and second-growth forest where one can find large Douglas fir and western red cedar.

Unfortunately, at the time of our visit we were unable to tour the interior or visit the gardens. But that’s fine, because the entrance and exterior were worth the stop.

The first door we’ll look at is at the covered main entrance. There are several things going on, from the old iron hinges to the decorative archway with its faces.

Here’s a closer look at the intricately detailed door handles, and the borderline creepy door bell panel.

The second door feels a bit like a secret, hidden back from the main facade of the castle and up a few stairs.

I like the mix of stained glass, carved wood and impressive handle.

Fun fact..

Hatley Castle is a popular location for filming, and has been used in many movies and television programs – Spider Man, X-Men, The Professor, Smallville, Supernatural, MacGyver.. just to name a few.

Have you visited Hatley Castle? Comments below.


Thursday Doors is a weekly event facilitated by Dan. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

Thursday Doors – Paris

This week we’re in Paris at Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall, which houses the city’s local administration. The building itself is striking, but I’m happy to focus on a couple of entrances today.

Look at this beauty, with its intricate iron work, glass and ornate gold touches. This is the door used by staff (at least early the morning I visited), and you can see a bit of the security scanner just inside.

And here’s the official main entrance with its beautiful engravings.

The inscription carved above the door reads, “In this place, September 4, 1870, the people of Paris proclaimed the Republic.”, referencing the Siege of Paris.

Hopefully one day I’ll be able to visit the inside of Hôtel de Ville, as I’ve heard that the function room was built to replicate the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Which reminds me to add it to my ever-growing list of places in Paris I want to check out.


Thursday Doors is a weekly event facilitated by Dan. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

Thursday Doors – Provins

It feels like it’s been forever since I last took part in Thursday Doors. So long, in fact, that Norm has passed the torch over to Dan, who now facilitates this fun weekly event. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

This week we’re in Provins, a picturesque medieval town just over an hour from Paris by train. The town is split into two parts, an upper and lower. It’s up on the hill that you’ll find Eglise Saint-Quiriace (Saint-Quiriace collegiate church). Here’s the main entrance.

I particularly enjoy the stone carving above the doors.

Unlike most churches I’ve visited in France, Eglise Saint-Quiriace sits mostly empty. But with a bit of imagination, it’s easy to picture what it would have looked like buzzing with people.

Construction of this church began during the 12th century, but it was never completed due to finances (or lack thereof). The 17th century saw a dome added to its roof, with people living in the nearby area then known as “the children of the dome”. Erm.

Outside is a plaque referencing Jean d’Arc attending mass with King Charles VII. The two had been in Reims for his consecration, and stopped in at Eglise Saint-Quiriace on their way through town.

I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Provins. It definitely justifies a proper visit, and look forward to returning one day. Have you been? Any suggestions for when I make it back?

Chāteaux Near Paris: Escape the Crowds

If you’re planning to be in Paris for any length of time, you’ll likely end up looking for day trip options to explore the surrounding areas.

Most people head to Versailles. Understandably. Known for being the historical country home to French Royals, Versailles is loved for its over-the-top opulence: carefully manicured and sprawling gardens, lush interior decor with furniture swathed in rich fabrics or gilded in gold, and art that is both stunning and priceless.

It’s also heaving with people. 10 million visitors per year kind of heaving. Which makes it difficult for many to truly appreciate their visit.

So I thought I’d follow up on my last post, Paris: Escape the Crowds, and offer a few châteaux alternatives to Versailles. Châteaux that are equally as beautiful, rich in history, and much more manageable. I’m confident that you’ll fall in love with any of them, and won’t feel like you’ve sacrificed your time by visiting.

Châteaux de Chantilly

Approximately 50km north of Paris you’ll find the beautiful Château de Chantilly, once the country home of the Duke of Aumale (son to the last King of France, Louis-Philippe). The Château is surrounded by a staggering 115 hectares, dotted with pools, fountains and specialised gardens. There’s plenty to see and do here.

One of the showstoppers is the Conde Musee, an highly regarded museum home to mainly French and Italian works. Be sure to keep an eye open for Three Graces by Rafael.

For bibliophiles, you’ll love the Reading Room. The Duke of Aumale collected a staggering 60,000 volumes during his lifetime and, of those, almost 19,000 are on public display today.

A short distance away you’ll find the Great Stables and its Museum of the Horse, which presents the centuries long relationship between horses and humans. Live performances can be seen in the Equestrian Loop throughout the day.

On your way back to the train station in town, do yourself a favour and stop in at a bakery for a delicious pastry featuring what else .. Chantilly cream!

Vaux-le-Vicomte

This Baroque château is located about 55 km southeast of Paris, and is definitely worth a visit if only for the scandalous history alone!

Long story short.. Esteemed member of Paris Parliament builds this sprawling estate, hiring the best of the best craftsmen of the time. Jealous colleague convinces the King that the château was built with state funds. King believes the jealous colleague, throws the man into prison for embezzlement and seizes the estate. Jealous colleague is promoted to take over now-jailed man’s position in the government (which was his end goal all along), and the King hires the same dream team of craftsmen to build his own estate .. a little place you might have heard of called Versailles, ahem.

So in a roundabout way, a visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte is almost the same as going to Versailles. Or at least it’s an opportunity to see its inspiration.

But if that’s not enough to call you, perhaps it’s the opportunity to visit the largest private estate listed as an historic monument in France. Or climbing the stairs of the central dome and looking out across the formal french gardens that spread out for 3 km from the Chateau.

Inside, the Chateau is centred around the bright and airy Grand Salon. Each room you move through is decorated elaborately from floor to ceiling, so much so that it’s almost dizzying.

I recommend getting an audio guide when you arrive so you can feel like you’ve been transported back centuries while listening to the characters who give some life to this magnificent Chateau.

Fontainebleau

55 km southeast of Paris is where you’ll find Château de Fontainebleau, one of the largest French Royal Château and home to many Kings throughout its history.

It’s often thought of as the hunting lodge of the Royals, with the surrounding forest once being full of game. It’s also known as the location where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled from.

Outside the Château is a large carp pond, which was used by the Royal Court for boating parties. Even today, you can rent a small boat to float along while pretending to be one of the elite.

If you prefer being on terra firma, there are lots of places to wander around the estate.

Plan ahead and bring a packed lunch to enjoy before heading inside.

If you’re hell bent on visiting Versailles, do yourself a favour and book a morning behind-the-scenes tour directly. Your small tour will give you the opportunity to learn from an expert and explore areas of the palace not seen by the public. It’s a great introduction to your day before you join the masses who, in many cases, won’t have the same knowledge of what they’re surrounded by that you will. And then prepare yourself to join a sea of people.

Of course, there are many more châteaux near to Paris that are worth visiting. If you’ve been to any not listed above, share your recommendations in the comment section below. I’m always looking for more to visit.

Paris: Escape the Crowds

We’ve all seen those posts that promise a list of “the top”, “the best” or “the only” places worth visiting in Paris. With short holiday breaks, everyone is looking for ways to best maximize their time in Paris, and how great is it that someone has compiled a complete list for you?

The thing about those lists though, is that they usually include the same “musts” with very little variation. For example, you’ll almost always see the Eiffel Tower listed. The Eiffel Tower is a bit of a no-brainer. Don’t get me wrong – you can’t visit Paris and not go to the Eiffel Tower. I’m pretty sure that would be punishable by guillotine. But places like the Eiffel Tower, and most others included on those lists, are insanely popular. Even more so because everyone is funneled into the same places. I guarantee that a large part of your experience will include being stuck in a crowd waiting and watching as person after person blocks your view while posing for multiple selfies.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it took me close to 10 minutes of waiting before I could get my photo of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night at Musée d’Orsay.

Of course, how you spend your time in Paris is ultimately your choice. I’m not here to tell you what to do. If your goal is to only cram as many typically Instragram-worthy sights into your visit, that’s okay. Just know what to expect. My advice for you is to visit those insanely busy, and justifiably popular sights – but to balance your time with a mix of less popular treasures. 

What I’ve learned through years of travel, including multiple trips to Paris, is that escaping from the crowds not only gives me room to breathe, but it also uncovers delightful parts of the city not heaving with people and their selfie-sticks. There’s so much to experience in Paris, and I thought I’d share a few of my own suggestions. Check out the “musts”, then take a break somewhere a little calmer nearby.

Because if you’re anything like me, you’ll be looking for a few spots to escape the crowds and insanity.

Medici Fountain

Tucked away in the northeast corner of the sprawling Luxembourg Gardens is the tranquil Medici Fountain (named for Catherine de’ Medici). Many visitors to Paris, and the park itself, miss it. In fact, it took me several visits to Luxembourg Gardens before I stumbled upon it myself. What I found was an ornate and historical fountain like nothing else I’ve found in Paris. The ducks floating on the water outnumbered the people, so it’s a perfect spot to sit and relax unbothered. Bring a baguette sandwich or a pastry, and enjoy the near-solitude for a while before you head back out of the park onto your next stop.

Saint-Severin Church

Chances are, you’ll find yourself at everyone’s favourite English-language bookstore at least once during your visit to Paris. Shakespeare and Company has enjoyed a cult following for decades, which means that it’s packed all day every day. It’s a great place to pick up a book as a souvenir of your visit to Paris – don’t forget to ask the cashier to stamp the inside of your book for you. But once you’ve escaped with your life (when I say it’s busy, I’m not kidding), why not walk a few minutes and visit Saint-Severin Church? Dating back to AD 650, Saint-Severin is peaceful (as you’d expect a church to be) and a great place to catch your breath. Although you’ll quickly lose it again while taking in the beautiful interior. Be sure to look for the twisted pillars that many say resemble palm tree trunks. If you’re lucky, the massive organ will fill the church with music during your visit. When you head back outside, don’t forget to look up at the large collection of gargoyles. 

Rosiers–Joseph Migneret Garden

Chances are that you’ll also find yourself in the historic Le Marais neighbourhood of Paris, waiting in line with everyone else at l’as du Fallafel to purchase a cheap and delicious falafel lunch. Once you’ve received your order, there’s not really anywhere to eat it comfortably. It’s not uncommon to see people crouched down at the edge of a narrow road trying to eat without making a mess. It’s not ideal, trust me. That’s where nearby Rosiers-Joseph Migneret Garden comes in at just the right time, because the chaos of the outside world disappears as soon as you enter through an almost hidden entrance. Aside from the calming atmosphere, the garden’s namesake makes your visit a moving experience as well.

Click here to read about Monsier Mignaret.

The Abbey Bookstore

Speaking of bookshops, if you prefer to not be up close and personal with dozens of strangers at Shakespeare and Company, The Abbey Bookshop nearby might be more your speed. Opened in 1989 by fellow Canadian, Brian Spence, The Abbey Bookshop is located in a charming building on a quiet street. It offers over 35,000 English-language titles and is well suited for perusing the bulging shelves while looking for your perfect purchase. Ask Monsieur Spence for a recommendation if you’re struggling to decide. After I visited the shop, I enjoyed a complimentary coffee outside before setting off to my next stop. 

Montmartre Cemetery

The area of Montmartre is famed for its vine covered buildings and cobblestone streets, as well as the bird’s eye view over Paris. The two most popular spots are in front of the imposing domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica and nearby Place du Tertre, a square packed with artists and their easels. They’re both fun to check out but definitely feel touristy. My favourite place to escape to is Montmartre Cemetery. It’s a 20ish minutes walk away, but it won’t feel that long. As you’ll experience in Paris, there’s so much to look at and discover. Before you know it you’ll be entering a gate and wandering between the last resting place for many important Parisians. Keep an eye out for the cats that also call Montmartre Cemetery home.

Other Tips to Escape the Crowds in Paris

Take advantage of your jet lag and visit the busiest places early in the morning. If it’s a park, you’ll feel like you have it to yourself. Plus your photos won’t be full of other people. Same with popular squares and cute little streets. If you want to visit a place with set hours though, try to pre-purchase online tickets for the start or end of the day.

If you can, walk as much as possible as Paris is best enjoyed on foot. It gives you the chance to pop into interesting looking places and take all the door photos. Plan your route beforehand and group together the places you’d like to visit to avoid unnecessary backtracking. If you have to take the Metro, I’d suggest avoiding connections at Châtelet–Les Halles if possible. It’s one of the biggest underground train stations in the world and sees a staggering 750,000 commuters pass through every weekday.

I mentioned the Eiffel Tower at the start of this post, and the unfortunate truth is that you won’t escape the crowds there. But with a bit of planning you can optimize your visit. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can purchase “skip the line” tickets for the Eiffel Tower. These don’t exist. The only way to jump the line (so to speak) is to pre-purchase your tickets online directly from the official website. You can secure tickets for as far out as 2 months prior to the date you want to go. Purchase tickets that grant you access to the top floor – I’ve never met a person who only went part way up and didn’t regret their decision. I also suggest that you check out when the sun will set on the day you want to visit. If the weather is nice that day, you’ll have the added bonus of experiencing the magic of watching the sun go down from the Eiffel Tower. Book your ticket for an hour or two before sunset, which will give you enough time to visit before heading back down to watch the first light show of the night. 

Have you been to Paris? Where do you like to go to escape the crowds?


			

Thursday Doors – Reims

This week’s door can be found on the property of Basilique Saint-Remi. While it’s true that Champagne is what brought my friend, Stephanie, and me to the city, we quickly found several things that we wanted to check out during our visit.

One of those things was Basilique Saint-Remi, the UNESCO medieval Abbey church that’s home to St. Rémi’s tomb.

I’m sure that it’s gorgeous inside. From the photos I’ve seen online, I can tell it’s just the kind of space that I love to visit while on holiday. Sadly Basilique Saint-Remi was closed so we couldn’t make it inside. But we did find a nice relaxing place to sit for a while at the back of the property, which is where we are for this week’s post.

I’m not clear on what this old building was used for. Perhaps someone else can fill me in below, in the comments section.

Bonne journée!

Marla


Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments section over at Norm’s blog, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time).

La Dame de Fer

Ahh, the Iron Lady.

No, I’m not talking about Margaret Thatcher. What was initially built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair), held to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower was only intended to stand for 20 years before being dismantled.

Thankfully its use as a wireless telegraph transmitter meant it was allowed to stay, and the Eiffel Tower is now one of the world’s most iconic symbols.

Did you know that the elevators travel a combined distance of 103,000 km a year? That’s two and a half times the circumference of the Earth.

A con artist has reportedly “sold” the Eiffel Tower as scrap metal – not once, but twice!

During WWII, Hitler instructed that the Eiffel Tower be demolished. His people rightfully refused. Speaking of war times, the Eiffel Tower played a part in the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne, in 1914. One of its transmitters jammed German radio communications, hindering their advance. She’s not just a pretty face.

The Eiffel Tower is repainted every 7 years, and 60 tonnes of paint is required to do the job.

The Eiffel Tower sways in the wind, moving upwards of 6-7cm.

Because of thermal expansion, the Eiffel Tower is 15cm taller in Summer than she is in Winter.

In 2008 a woman with an objects fetish married the Eiffel Tower, changing her name to Erika La Tour Eiffel in honour of her ‘partner’. Her Wikipedia page even lists the Eiffel Tower as her spouse.

There are 20,000 lightbulbs used on the Eiffel Tower to make it sparkle every night.

Bonne journée!

Marla

How I Celebrated My Birthday – Parisian Pandemic Style

I’ll say right off the top that I’d much rather be in Paris right now. But because of the global pandemic and the resulting travel bans, one must do what they can. In my case this meant that I planned my day with special nods to my most favourite city and previous visits.

After my shower I decided to do a mask, using a product that I always purchase from my favourite pharmacy in Paris.

Now time to get dressed.

Stripes ✅

Beret ✅

I’m not a mime, I swear!

Next was breakfast. Le petit déjeuner, like so many that I’ve started my day with in Paris.

You’ll note that every photo from here on relates to food. If you can’t shove your face with food without guilt on your birthday, when can you?

I decided to watch a movie, and chose Julie & Julia. I’d seen it before but planned to make Julia Child’s Quiche Lorraine for dinner. It seemed like a good fit.

You’ll note the blurry cashews in the bottom right corner. I chose them because I remember years ago sitting on a terrace, drinking a beer and being served a small bowl cashews.

Side note: I also remember being on the open top of one of those hop-on, hop-off buses during that same trip. Some asshole on the pavement threw an handful of cashews at us when we passed (while aggressively shouting in French), and I got pelted on the side of the face with several. I’d say that he got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning but I can’t imagine there being a wrong side if you’re fortunate enough to wake up in Paris every morning..

After the movie I headed for the kitchen to prepare a few things.

Simple syrup. Because I had a cocktail I planned to drink.

And lots and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice – for the cocktail, but also for a tarragon lemon vinaigrette for the salad we’d be eating with dinner.

I was feeling rather peckish. Time to have a baguette slathered in Boursin.

I eat this in my hotel room regularly in Paris. Sometimes after a long day I don’t feel like heading out for a proper meal. Other times I’m so jetlagged that after a long nap, I find myself wide awake in the middle of the night with nothing open. This quick snack has become a welcome tradition and regular standby.

Of course I needed something to wash it down. I planned ahead and sipped on a lemony cocktail with gin and bubbles. The French 75.

Served in one of James’ grandmother’s crystal flutes, of course.

I took a nap next. Which I don’t normally do but since I was in Paris-mode, it was like I was really there and needed a mid-afternoon nap.

When I woke up I sat on my balcony with a cup of my favourite tea..

..in one of my favourite tea cups. With a palmier on the side, of course.

Once James arrived home from work, we had chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese icing (breaking theme, but whatever..).

Eventually it was time to make dinner. But we procrastinated, and dinner ended up being quite late. It was worth the wait though.

I had hoped to watch my all-time favourite movie, Amelie, after dinner but it was late so we decided to watch it another time.

So there you have it. My perfect Parisian Pandemic themed birthday to celebrate another trip around the sun.

Bonne journée!

Marla

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Do you like watching sports? I’m not a fan. I’d rather wash the dishes or organise a junk drawer. But being in a partnership means that you regularly have to compromise. Which is how I ended up at a baseball game during a trip to San Francisco.

James and I were enjoying a day taking in the sights when he suddenly sprung on me that it would be really great to attend a San Francisco Giants game. Never once had he mentioned this before, and I wasn’t sure where the idea came from.

Ugh.

I started to protest when he offered, “I’ll buy your ticket!”. I countered with, “You’ll buy me beer, right?’. A deal was made and the next day we headed to AT&T Park.

We bought baseball hats, split a massive hot dog, drank beer and made friends with our neighbours.

I couldn’t tell you what happened on the field or who won the game, but it ended up being alot more enjoyable than I had anticipated.

Would I do it again? Probably not. But I’m glad that we went and I still have the baseball hat as a nice momento.

Bonne journée!

Marla

Paris Street Art – Rue de Louvre

During my most recent trip to Paris, I decided that I’d finally check out illustrious E. Dehillerin. For those unaware, E. Dehillerin sell cooking supplies. It’s got 2 floors jam packed with kitchen items that you’ll likely never have a need to use them at home. For someone who loves to hoard kitchen toys (guilty as charged!), it’s heaven on Earth. I’m working on a post to sum up my visit .. hopefully it will be ready later this week. Continue reading “Paris Street Art – Rue de Louvre”

Vaux-le-Vicomte, the Grand Salon

Today we’ll wrap up our visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte with a quick stop in the Grand Salon. This large room is the château’s central point, from which the rest of the elaborately decorated rooms spread out from.

The domed ceiling rises 18 metres above the ground and sprawling surface area of 400 square metres. I think I remember seeing somewhere that a major restoration is set for next year.

Of course I had to take a photo of the flooring with its centre mosaic design.

Once through the doors that lead outside, I took a few more photos before heading for the shuttle bus.

One last spin..

Bonne journée!

Marla

Vaux-le-Vicomte, A Bedroom Fit for a King

If you recall my first post in this series featuring Vaux-le-Vicomte, you might remember my mentioning that Nicolas Fouquet was Superintendent of Finances under King Louis XIV. So when Fouquet had Vaux-le-Vicomte built, he made sure to include a beautiful bedroom for the young King to enjoy during his visits to the château.

Unfortunately for Fouquet, King Louis XIV was led to believe that the he had built the château using embezzled funds. Fouquet was thrown in jail and the property abandoned, meaning that all of his careful consideration put into this gorgeous bedroom went to waste.

Bonne journée!

Marla