Beautiful Berlin, perfect Paris

An enormous and spacious AirBnb, some attempted German whilst ordering breakfast, a wonderful walking tour of the centre of the city (the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, the site of Hitler’s bunker, the Luftwaffe HQ, the Topographie des Terrors, and Checkpoint Charlie), a cheese pretzel, a crowded demonstration in Bebelplatz, and an enormous dinner of traditional German food filled our first day in lovely Berlin. And we got sunburnt.

A bookstore jaunt, a kebab, an ‘alternative city tour’ (street art [including the Stumbling Stones that we had found outside our apartment], squats, and the gorgeous Baumhaus an der Maeur), a downpour of rain that has probably given me pneumonia, a stroll down the East Side Gallery, and an explore around East Berlin filled the second.

On our last day it was a day for museums – the boys to the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin, the girls back to the Topographie des Terrors. After a strudel and a schnitzel for lunch, we headed to the German Resistance Memorial Centre before walking back along the Tiergarten and heading home to pack.

An early morning, a bright sunny flight, and we were in Paris. Shakespeare & Company is beautiful as ever. Our flat overlooks a sunny square (under construction, but it’s the ambience that matters!). We are staying next door to where Ernest Hemingway lives.

Another walking tour in brilliant sunshine. French onion soup and exquisite meals in a tiny wee bistro before a cruise along the Seine at night.  Cheeky midnight crepes to finish.

Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle are even better than I remember. Pere Lachaise weaves its magic once more while we walk its cobbled lanes. It rains today, and we stop for lunch – a croque madame for me! – before heading home for a quieter night.

I finally see Montmartre from the inside of a rickety little train that takes us all the way up the hill to Sacre Coeur. We wander down through the Place du Tertre until we find some lunch – one of the best burgers I have ever had, and a speculoos crepe to finish. We quickly stop past the Arc de Triomphe for a stickybeak at the dreadful traffic. More sunburn. Eurovision is played too quietly in a tiny, sweaty bar, surrounded by enthusiasts. Hooray for Portugal!

Our last day is quiet – for me at least. An amazing breakfast, a walk through the Jardin des Plantes, and then an afternoon spent resting and catching up on reading while we wait for the plane home. It is midnight and we are here at last.

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Au revoir once more

The brilliance of Picasso was on display at the Musée Picasso, despite two floors being closed in preparation for an exhibition. The sheer volume of work this man produced is astounding. The amount of stuff he kept throughout his lifetime, little doodles and tickets and pieces of paper and all manner of tiny clues to his personality and creative process is second to none. A wonderful museum, and definitely one to revisit when it is completely open.

The Eiffel Tower and the Arc du Triomphe – staples of Paris they may be, but they always look impressive, especially in a fine haze of rain. Eating a Nutella crepe and riding the carousel nearby simply enhances the experience.

Montmartre, my heart. Another walking tour, another couple of hours of bliss, even in the cold night air. Revisiting the homes of Van Gogh and Picasso, witnessing the beauty of Sacre Coeur, even buying original work from the artists who frequent the mountain. Finishing a tour in a tiny, warm bistro, with hot onion soup full of cheese and bread, red wine and a French salade too big to finish (normal salad fare like lettuce and tomatoes, but with bread, two types of cheese, potatoes, and meat in the mix also).

Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise – a peaceful, sombre experience. Among the monuments and the graves of writers, thinkers, and artists lies a smaller plot for a 21 year old woman who died at the Bataclan in November. Visceral sculptures reach toward the sky to commemorate victims of war.

The Abbey Bookshop – an English-speaking treasure trove for book lovers. Towers of paperbacks teeter precariously on either side of ever-diminishing aisle space. A fresh pot of coffee is propped on a hidden shelf. I buy two books, determined to excavate space in my suitcase, including a 1996 issue of the Paris Review with a short story by then-unknown writer, Elizabeth Gilbert. (Whether or not you liked Eat, Pray, Love, you must read Big Magic).

The Latin Quarter yields more and more bookshops. The Pantheon with its crypt full of writers and philosophers and scientists and Resistance heroes is huge, overwhelming, and beautiful. Frescoes of Jeanne d’Arc and Sainte-Genevieve adorn the walls among their male counterparts. Foucault’s pendulum mesmerises visitors.

The church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is just as beautiful, only smaller. The tomb of Sainte-Genevieve is surrounded by candles. I pray quietly and thankfully. Next door, the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve is a hive of activity, students racing in and out of the reading room and the reserve section with its cabinet of curiosities at the entrance. An accommodating guide takes me for a tour in a small group, speaking French to everyone else and translating for me. I try to express my gratitude in clumsy French first, then English.

Our last night in Paris, and the four of us find a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. I have another beautiful French salade and am able to finish it this time. We drink more red wine and order dessert – my creme brûlée is the best I have ever tasted. We return to our mostly packed-up apartment, and in the morning we have cleaned up and are on the train to the airport by 9am. I finish this blog post at the gate, about to board our flight to Manchester and the start of our UK adventure. I will always love France, its language, its people, its capital city, and I look forward to many more return trips.

Home, sweet home.

I am writing this from Melbourne, in a bit of a jet lagged fog. I’ve unpacked, and had a huge amount of sleep, caught up with my loved ones, and am now trying to sort out uni and work and the rest of my non-travelling life.

Our last day in Paris, we packed up all our stuff and then cleared out of the apartment for a wee stomp around Montmartre. Mum and Marnie did more shopping and I did lots of window shopping, then we had crepes for lunch and came back to the apartment to collect our stuff. We booked a taxi to the airport, and it only took about half an hour, and cost just under 50 euros. It was INFINITELY preferable to taking the train, though that is doable. We had lots of time to kill at the airport, but once we were on the plane, we discovered we had booked our seats at the front of economy block, so we has oodles of extra leg room. In the months since we booked our seats, we’d forgotten this, and it was the best way to travel on an economy budget. I watched How I Live Now (amazing!) and the new version of Romeo and Juliet (not so amazing) and even managed an hour or so of sleep before we got to Dubai. Then we found we had booked the same seats on the second leg! We high-fived our past selves and settled down for a nearly 14 hour flight. I watched more television and movies, read my book, did codewords, dozed, was generally bored, but survived. We flew into Melbourne at 5.20am Sunday morning, and it took us about 20 minutes to get through passport control and customs. Dad was there to pick us up, and we were home by 6.50am.

I have had the most wonderful trip. I have had the most lovely company, and created some wonderful memories. I have a pile of souvenirs and gifts to sort out, and a somewhat jumbled life to return to, and now, a huge amount of money to save so I can eventually go on another trip. All my love xx

Au revoir, City of Love and Light

Our last full day in Paris! We wanted to make it count. I went with Mum and Marnie to the Palais Royal gardens, where they were going to check out a bunch of passages, which are these little joined together covered walkways of shops. I headed off in the other direction and went to Sainte-Chapelle and La Conciergerie, two places I have been very interested in seeing, but haven’t made it to yet. It’s my third trip to Paris, and I wasn’t going to leave without finally seeing them, especially as you can get a discounted ticket if you buy for each place at the same time, and a further discount if you’re under 26. It only cost me 8.50 euros to see both. I walked right into the Conciergerie, which is a former royal palace and prison. It is particularly famous for housing Marie-Antoinette and numerous important prisoners during the Revolution. They have recreated Marie-Antoinette’s cell and built a chapel where the original cell was. The Gothic architecture is also particularly beautiful, but it was very sobering seeing an enormous list of names, all people who were guillotined. There were different cells on display, all according to rank/wealth – pailleux for the very poor, which was pretty much just crowded cells with hay on the floor and no beds, pistoles might have a couple of beds and a table, and the very wealthy had a cell to themselves with space to do work. But they still had to pay for it, and often it was only a matter of days before they were executed and the privilege to pay was offered to another prisoner.

 

 

 

 

Afterwards I stood for about half an hour in the line for Sainte-Chapelle. It is most famous for it’s stained glass, though it was originally built to house the relics of the Passion. It is also built with Gothic architecture, and the ceilings are really something to be admired. They were doing restoration on part of it and it was crowded inside, but the beauty of the place makes up for it. As I was going through security to be let in, the gendarme said something to me in French. I told him (in French) that I couldn’t understand, because he was pointing to my phone and I thought there was something wrong. So then he asked in English for my number and I sort of laughed and shook my head and said ‘I’m Australian’ like an idiot, before I ran away.

 

 

 

 

 

I walked to Notre-Dame – the line was about a million people long, and I’ve been twice, so I didn’t worry about going in, but I did go into the archeological crypt. It houses a bunch of Roman ruins that sit beneath the ground level, and provided extremely detailed scientific information about the agricultural history that went straight over my head. But it only cost 3 euros to get in (being under 26 gets you some decent discounts) and I got some good photos.

 

 

 

I walked back to meet Mum and Marnie. I bought a kebab on the way and the kebab guy told me he liked my eyes, so clearly the French men find the no-sleep, overheated, death-warmed-up, wrung-out-by-travel look a real turn-on. I sat and drank cucumber iced tea and read my Agatha Christie book while I waited for Mum and Marnie and they arrived bearing presents!! Mum had bought me both volumes of Jane Eyre, in French, 1886 editions, and they list the author as Currer Bell!! (Which was the pseudonym Charlotte Bronte wrote under). They are so beautiful!! I’m going to teach myself French with my French versions of Jane Eyre and Harry Potter. Yesm.

Mum and Marnie took me through the passages that surround the Palais-Royal gardens to show me a couple of cute bookshops they had found. The passages were very beautiful, and I’d like to see more of them one day. As we walked through the gardens, we saw people filming something (we’ve seen quite a few things being filmed on this trip). I tried to stickybeak and check if I recognised any French movie stars, but I couldn’t. However, there was a paparazzo snapping away from behind some tables and chairs, so you never know.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Montmartre for a wee rest before our tour tonight. I’ll continue this afterwards!

Okay, back. Had a lovely tour of Montmartre, which I also did two years ago and you can read about here. There’s been a few changes here and there, but we heard some great stories, some quite sad, some quite risque. There was a lot more said about Vincent Van Gogh on this tour than I remember – what an interesting dude. We are home now, super tired, but trying to do some last minute luggage organisation. We fly home tomorrow, and I can’t believe this has come to an end. Frodsham seems like another lifetime, but it also feels like it’s gone so quickly. I have loved traveling with Marnie again, and traveling with Mum has been really special. I feel so lucky to have been able to have this experience with them. I’m ready for a sleep in my own bed, and a shower in my own bathroom, but first, a plane flight to get through! I’ll try and update this tomorrow at the airport, otherwise, I’ll see you all in Melbourne. Au revoir.

 

 

 

 

 

Fun times at Shakespeare and Company

Several things happened today that are noteworthy:

1. Mum’s back! We met her at Gare de Lyon after her train came back from Avignon and had lunch and swapped stories and it was wonderful to see her again.

2. I finished and submitted my assignment. Letters of congratulation, chocolates, flowers etc can be left at my house because I’m home on Sunday.

3. We all went back to Shakespeare and Company, where I browsed for a blissful half hour, bought a book about the history of the shop, and found out about an event tonight in celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday!

4. Mum and I went back at 6.30 (Mum wanted to come with to make sure I wasn’t murdered on the metro) and we were let in to the little banks of stools inside the shop. It was tiny, and cramped, and crowded, and we couldn’t see the itty-bitty makeshift stage, and it was perfect. We sat next to an American guy who is living in Paris and we just talked and talked about books and travel for about half an hour before anything started. He was very well-read, with a very cheeky sense of humour and thought it was hilarious that I said ‘Far out’ because he hadn’t heard anyone say it since Mick Jagger did a couple of decades ago. Rude. There was about half an hour of songs and poetry performed, then two people did a scene between Helena and Demetrius. Then a bunch of people performed Tom Stoppard’s version of Hamlet that went for about 25 minutes. It was hilarious. Most of it I couldn’t see, but their cobbled together version was still very entertaining, and the dude playing Hamlet reminded me a lot of Riley which made it even better. Afterwards, they filtered us out and let a whole bunch of people in who’d been waiting outside. They gave us wine and then Mum and I walked back to metro, trained to Abbesses, and bought crepes for dessert and took some home to Marnie. It was a fairly warm, mild evening in Paris and it was a great way to spend our time – I feel very lucky to be in Paris on Shakespeare’s birthday.

Assignment writing does not a particularly riveting day make

But it’s pretty much done! I slept in a smidgen, then got up, ate something, did homework, showered, did more homework, then went for a walk with Marnie. This time we actually made it to Sacre Coeur and it’s beautiful views of the city, though it was still quite crowded. But it was a good walk, with lots of stops for souvenir shopping and admiring all the different artwork for sale in Montmartre. We bought a fresh, hot baguette, a couple more groceries, and an absolutely delightful mille-feuille pastry which turned out to be the best kind of vanilla slice. Then home again! More homework, a powernap, another walk down to check out where the post office was and to stop and sample some tea at a fancy gourmet tea store. Home! Homework! Then the sweet relief of finishing something that you have been dreading for some time. I have not submitted it yet because I may tweak a couple of things in the next few days, but it is safe and sound and there, and I don’t need to jump the hurdle of actually writing the damn thing again. Phew. So now I’m relaxing for the rest of the night!

Au revoir Maman!

Mum left for Avignon this morning, which meant we were up and out of the apartment by 7.30, to make our way to Gare de Lyon to see her off! We found her train and platform with no trouble and she shouted us hot drinks which tasted wonderful. We stood on the platform to wave her off and I felt like a proud parent, which is an odd way to feel about your mother. Afterwards, Marnie and I took the metro to Saint-Lazare and bought tickets to Vernon, to see Monet’s garden. We will probably use them on Tuesday, but I wanted to make sure we had them organised. I tried out my French (the ticket people spoke great English anyway, but I like trying) and success! Then we headed back to the apartment.

I have an assignment I need to complete before I leave Paris, because it is due the day after I arrive home, and the very last thing I will be capable of while jetlagged is cramming an assignment. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is. So today and tomorrow are assignment writing days. Now, I’m not just going to sit in the middle of beautiful Montmartre staring at my computer screen, so we broke up the rest of the day with walks. We went to Rue Lepic again to get a couple more groceries, some souvenirs, and a fresh baguette. Then at home we assembled amazing lunches and I sat and did my assignment while I ate and listened to the sounds of Montmartre floating through the window. It’s a warm and sunny day today, so we went for another walk a couple of hours later and headed for Sacre Coeur Basilica. The crowds were enormous. I think it was a combination of Easter church-goers, Sunday afternoon Parisians and market enthusiasts, people visiting the city for the long weekend, and the nice weather. Anyway, we couldn’t even get close to the basilica, so we walked a sort of scenic route out of the crowds and down through the tiny streets. I bought important essentials, like macarons, and then home again! Now I’m procrastinating and Marnie is reading her book. Lovely day, and I even got a bit of work done (I’ve really got to knuckle down tomorrow though).