A Travellerspoint blog

France

Viva Le France

Days 103, 104, 105, 106, 107 Paris

sunny 30 °C

We caught our 2 km taxi for $20 are happy to be leaving Tanger.

Upon entering the Airport, through two security checks just to get in the front door (which was painless and not a bad idea) the check in process of this small, disorganised, ill planned, costly airport is crazy.

There was a queue to get to the queue for check in. After checking in you had to go back out the same gate, against the ever growing tide of passengers wanting to check in. Then you join another "queue" that isn't really a queue, more a group of people congregating at the gate before the door to the Passport Control hall. There no signs or explanation as to why you can't proceed through. A staff member seems to be allowing some people to proceed through, but there's no apparent system, and everyone looks at each other bewildered. Like all good lemmings, once a few people decide to kick off, the crowd follows and we're swept into Passport Control.

Its a small airport with only 3 gates. We hoped to use our remaining Dirhams on some water and breakfast. Normally croissant was 1 MAD and in the airport it was 11 MAD. 1.5 litres of water is normally 6 MAD but a 500ml bottle was 12 MAD. Sadly we only had enough for a small bottle of water and one croissant.

By this stage, we are getting most eager to get out of this place and our flight is called. As we board, what people were carrying onto the plane and shoving into overhead lockers had to be seen to be believed. It seems they think shopping bags don't count in the carry on limits and the lockers are full about halfway through boarding. Plus, just to make things more interesting, people travelling together aren't seated together. Jen and I are seated in same row but in the middle seat on either side. Families were spread out making for a chaotic dance as women tried to sort bags, husbands and kids up and down the crowded aisle.

Once in the air, it was an uneventful flight and we were glad to arrive in Paris. Having enjoyed about 6 weeks now of 35+ degree heat, we were looking forward to Paris being a bit milder. However, checking the weather the night before the forecast is 3 days of 36 deg C, no chance for a break from the heat.

We both feel like we've rounded the bend and are now enjoying a little culture treat before heading home.

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Jen was here last in 2011 and I was here in 2008, but very briefly. Jen knows the place pretty well and had tour responsibilities but it was a chance to see Paris together. We are still suffering from tummy troubles but we ventured out to pick up our museum tickets.

Next, Jen had an idea to buy a pretty dress in Paris as a treat. Our AirBnB was in Royal Village between Gucci, Prada and Dior. The staff at Dior warmly greeted us even though our outfits look like we've been travelling for 4 months. Telling them we're in the market for a pretty Summery dress, we are escorted upstairs to womenswear, offered a champagne and the assistant says "oh, I will get some things that will suit you". She shows Jen half a dozen classic French Dior cocktail dresses, all beautiful and stylish. I could see Jen trying to work out what they may cost and she raises the courage to ask the assistant before attempting to try anything on. The assistant looks at the price tag of one of the dresses and the number of around €2400 is all we heard. That squashed that idea quick smart. Jen was prepared to splurge but sadly not that much. Fortunately, Jen had found a little shop having a sale and found two little numbers very reasonably priced.

Whilst Jen didn't get a designer dress treat, we got a designer dessert treat!

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We also rediscovered how extremely expensive Paris is. Dinner consisted of a club sandwich, quiche and water for 50 Euros about $75.

We were able to catch up with Lisa, a friend of Jen's who used to live in Moscow but recently moved to Paris. It's a warm night and doing the Parisian thing of sitting on the side of the road out front of a cafe drinking Champagne and catching up was a lovely way to end our first night.

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As we're on our Honeymoon, Jen organised a photo shoot with a local photographer. It was a nice treat to get us photographed together in Paris at the end of our trip - especially as Selfies in Paris aren't quite enough. It was a fun morning and love that we have some great photos.

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Right, photos done, time to hit the best of the art galleries, Musee D'Orsay and Musee de L'Orangerie - a couple of Jen's favourites. We decide to skip the Louvre. We've both been before and we've had sufficient quantities of Renaissance art during this trip. Its now time for the Impressionists and beyond.

Musee D'Orsay is on the banks of the Seine almost opposite the Louvre. Its an old art deco train station beautifully converted into a museum and makes a great backdrop for displaying some of the best art work in particular impressionist work.

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The first salon features classic paintings from Morocco and the Sahara. We stand silent for a few moments, taking in the images and processing against images we've seen with our own eyes.

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Its a lovely feeling revisiting a place we both know, relaxing a bit, knowing that its okay to take our time, and not have to discover everything.

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Musee D'Orsay has been rearranged and expanded since Jen's last visit but her favourites are there - Degas' Little Dancer.

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All the Impressionists, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Sisley, Renoir, Millet and numerous others. Being in Australia you do not get to see art work like this.

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The main attraction was the Gauguin and of course Van Gogh, Jen's other favourites Hay Stacks and of course, Starry Night.

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A room full of instantly recognisable master paintings. Having seen lots of Picasso on this trip and how prolific he was, painting until his death in his 90s, we ponder what the world would be like if Van Gogh hadn't been plagued by mental illness and his family kinder to him, helping him live longer than his late 30s. We may have an even greater body of work to admire.

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After Musee D'Orsay, we walk through the the most French gardens, Jardin des Tuileries and the Musee de L'Orangerie. This building was originally a glass house for the Royal Orange grove and has been converted into a gallery. Monet had specifically requested this space to house his gift to the People of France, who he decided needed some joy after WWI and a peaceful place to escape the bustle of Paris. The main attraction is Water Lilies in two oval shaped rooms, with filtered natural light, and you sit down and try and absorb the size of these paintings.

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Below Water Lilies is an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century art we enjoy very much.

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That night we had a lovely catch up and dinner with friends, Pauline and Jeremy. I worked with Pauline during my time on the Boyne Smelter Project. It's always to great to catch up with friends while travelling and Jen and I have been fortunate enjoy wonderful time with many friends during this trip. And after travelling for 4 months, nice to have someone else to talk to :-)

Pauline tells us some great stories of her time with Rio Tinto and having to work in Guinea, East Africa while the Ebola virus was rampant. She is amazing and hope she and Jeremy can come back out to Australia for a visit sometime soon.

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Our full second day in Paris as organised by Jen is to revisit one of her all time favourite places in Paris, the Musee Rodin. We've been lucky everywhere we go as there are no queues and Paris is actually quite quiet. Rodin is famous for his sculptures in bronze and the first thing you learn is the process to take a plaster sculpture and create a bronze one. I never realised how complex and time consuming the process is in particular to make the miniature plaster version of the full size version. We start walking through a beautiful and peaceful garden full of bronze statues all with an amazing story. Jen loves walking through them and telling me all the facts about them. I never realised Jen was such an art buff but this place is special for her.

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The favourite ones:

The Thinker

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Burghers of Calais

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The Gates of Hell representing Dante's Divine Comedy

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The Three Shades

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Inside the museum was the most famous piece the "The Kiss".

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It's next onto Palace de Invalides. The building used to be a hospital during the past wars but is now a museum for a history on the wars that France has been involved with starting in the late 1800s. This was going to be quick but we wanted to see the display on the first and second world wars. It did take far longer as the information and displays were very detailed and we could have spent a lot longer. The photos depicted very well how horrific it would have been in those wars.

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The final place to see was a visit to the famous short little fella called Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb located in the Chapel des Invalides. Jen was winding me up saying this is some thing special. I walked into the church and the look on my face says it all as I see this huge hole in the middle of the church and deep inside is a massive marble coffin that contains the ashes of Napoleon.

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It seems a little over the top, even for the first emperor of France after the revolution in the mid 1800's. I expected a small coffin and statue in the corner but it's massive. It dominates the hole and the church.

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We then take a walk and see the absolute musts of Paris, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Both are icons and no visit to Paris is complete without a visit.

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The queue up the Eiffel Tower is, as always, too long, and preferring the view of the Arc de Triomphe, we head over to the Arc and went to its top for the iconic photo shoot.

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We were not finished with our tourist activities and the last day was a trip to the Palace of Versailles located about 30 minutes south west of Paris. First time in Paris we had to queue up in line that went for about 300 metres and took 45 minutes to get through.
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It's a massive palace but tourists are well organised so we were able to get through in about 2 hours. The palace is very impressive and was the home of the royal family from the 1600's to the mid 1800's. Over that time it was continually expanded to its current glory and now the building and gardens are a main attraction.

The hall of mirrors is the most famous room and the most elaborate in the Palace.

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Through Louis XIV' bedroom and dining room where his every move was monitored by courtiers.

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Lunch is a selection of treats from a French Patisserie including an icon of days growing up in Melbourne, the Snot Block. It was delicious.

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We get back to Paris, do a mini walking tour along the Seine, past Notre Dame, stand in my footsteps from 30 years ago and finish off with a boat cruise.

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Love locks must be the bain of municipal bodies everywhere!

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Well that ends our travels and our Honeymoon Odyssey, wrapping up 4 months of adventures and a very special time Jen and I had together.

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Tomorrow we overnight to Singapore to be plain tourists hanging out in a fancy hotel - air conditioning and a comfy bed here we come!

Posted by tszeitli 20:33 Archived in France Tagged art honeymoon paris france le viva Comments (3)

Cuisine de Provence with Old & New Friends

Day 65 to 68 Aix-en-Provence

sunny 38 °C

In 2008, I cycled through the south of France, Provence district, following the Le Tour de France and loved the place with its scenery, weather, lifestyle, cycling and above all its food.

Of all the cooking styles, I prefer Provençal for its rustic elements, simple quality ingredients, well rounded flavours and great for home cooking. We also quickly learned that, contrary to the perception that French cooking is full of butter, butter and more butter, Provençal cooking uses almost exclusively Olive Oil - a much healthier option so my esteem for this style has only improved.

So what better opportunity than to skip across from Italy on our way to Spain and arrange cooking classes in Provence - as one does!

We found the perfect town, Aix-en-Provence, about 1 hour north of Marseilles. Time to expand our culinary skills. Also we planned to catch up with friends, Grant and Katya, who are now living in Grenoble. They'd visited Aix before and it took very little persuasion to convince them to come down to meet us.

This town is renowned for its produce, cuisine and a touch of Paris, often referred to as the 21st district of Paris, although Parisians are definitely considered foreigners by the proud locals. Its a 2000 year old town, settled by the Romans during conquests East. "Aix" means water and this town has a number of (still operational) roman baths and hot springs so it was the perfect spot to establish an outpost for the Roman Legions to stop and replenish before continuing their marauding.

The town lives only for the seasons and seasonal produce. They shop every day for what they need and what you see in the markets and restaurants is only in what is season. Its a nice way to live, they don't expect produce out of season and plan a menu around what is in season, guaranteeing freshness and food at its best which, as we are reminded, in order to get produce out of season, it is often picked green for durability during transportation, held in cold storage and artificially ripened, compromising flavour, vitamins and all the good stuff.

Aix has a reputation for great restaurants with high quality food and is a hub for Cooking Classes.

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The town is also famous for a special sweet candy almond shaped biscuit called Calissons, translated means cuddles. It was developed in the 15th century by the royal kitchens as a wedding present from the last Baron of Provence, King Rene of Anjou, to his young bride and the town to celebrate their wedding (the King's second). Today, Calissons are proudly sold in Aix and we understand that once a year there is a festival where there is a blind tasting of makers to determine who makes the best. The right to make Calissons is also regulated and only certified bakeries are licensed to make them.

Provence is a dry weather region so no green pastures for grazing cows. With terrain more suited to sheep and goats, it has become famous for its sheep and goat cheese as well as wines, particularly, Rośe.

Our Provençal Education kicks off with a full day cooking class with Giles. The day begins with a tour to the local market which has been operating in the same square for decades where Giles explains a lot about the produce and the producers and buys our ingredients.

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The market was full of the atmosphere, aromas, colour and freshness we were hoping for. This lady is an icon of the market, selling her own produce, picked late the evening before, or very early each morning to be on display hours later.
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We were dazzled with the variety of produce we just don't see in Oz. Heritage Tomatoes that are glorious
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and we fell in love with Peche Plates a type of flat peach, that is sweet with beautiful crunchy juicy texture, perfectly engineered for easy eating as we wandered the market...
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...in addition to learning about and sampling the local olives (green through black), dried fruits, honey (including lavender and other flavours) and other delicious products offered by the stall holders. Jen could not stop swooning over the intoxicating aromas from the fresh bread, cheese, olives, herbs and cured meats.
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We knew straight away the food we were about to cook would be a taste sensation. Jen and I could not get enough of this market - visiting it many times throughout our days in Aix.

Next stop was to an exclusive vineyard, Château Simone, famous for its Rośe.

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Located four kilometres from Aix, originally it was the bastide of the Grands Carmes d'Aix Monks, but has been in the hands of the intensely private Rougier family since 1830. Old documents bear witness to the fact that vines have been cultivated here from time immemorial. They normally don't allow visitors so the opportunity to visit this most private family vineyard was unique. From the beautifully cool cellar with barrels about 20 years old, tasting room and gardens all oozed history, everything about French culture and a sense of refined serenity and peacefulness.

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We then arrived at Giles' nearby property, put on our aprons and we're ready to learn. We were set up outside on a large table in a wonderful garden setting, selecting herbs we would need straight from the garden. And we're immediately put to work.
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It was the perfect way for a bunch of strangers from around the world to learn about food and cooking whilst enjoying good company.
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Giles is a wealth of information, answering all our questions and patiently guiding us through the cooking tasks assigned to each of us.

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Jen got a little reminder of home as one of Giles' very friendly cats is a perfect (although a little chubbier) clone of Tzara - so cuddles were in order between tasks in the kitchen.

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After a few hours of chopping, dicing, mixing and numerous stories told by the group we eventually sat down to a five course late lunch:
1. Tapenades of green and black olives with anchovies, capers, olive oil and pine nuts
2. Onion tart with anchovies
3. Petits Farcis - Nice style - paying homage to Nice despite the horrific events a few days earlier. It is fitting to celebrate something so great about Nice amid so much pain. Ham, pork and beef mince stuffed into hollowed out onions, eggplant, peppers and zucchini.
4. Three different kinds of goats cheese, oozy and pungent
5. White nectarines and yellow peaches with mint syrup, and pine nuts.

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All washed down with special Château Simone wine.
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The day was a huge success: we learnt cooking skills, made traditional Provençal food, enjoyed the scenery of the hills of Aix-en-Provence, drank beautiful wine, sampled fresh produce in a local market and met wonderful people. This is what travelling is all about.

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The next day was simple. We met up with my wonderful friend Grant and the radiant Katya to catch up over the past few years. Breakfast, walk around the shops and markets, lunch, home for a siesta, back out for dinner and drinks. That's it.

The following day, after Le Petit Déjeuner (breakfast) in the Hotel de Ville (Town Square) surrounded by centuries old buildings, our Provençal Education continues with a half day cooking class.
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We again tour the Market with Mathilde, a Parisian living in Aix running cooking classes at her wonderful L'Atelier Cuisine de Mathilde.

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The menu this time was:

1. Figs with goat cheese, pine nuts, honey and mint wrapped up in pastry parcels and baked.
2. A slightly different version of Petits Farcis Provençaux - veal and pork mince stuffed into onions, peppers and zucchini with tomato sauce on a bed of rice. True to the commitment to the season, in July, Petits Farcis is the only plat du jour .
3. Dessert was an opportunity to learn the classic Creme Brûlée infused with vanilla. Its amazing how everyone gets a devilish look and a sparkle in their eyes when handed the blow torch - fire it up and watch it BURN!

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The whole lunch was delicious and very filling and so a siesta was needed, not before a palate cleanser on the way back.

Again out for dinner with the weather still mid twenties and still lots to talk about.

Next morning we all met at the market for a brunch and to say our farewells. Thank you to Grant and Katya for making the effort to come down to Aix-en-Provence and have the opportunity to catch up. Jen and I will remember the town in many special ways. We're also inspired by our cooking adventures and excited to get home and cook for family and friends.

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The rest of the day was just a typical travel day you take each time you move on. Pack up, checkout, walk to the bus or train station terminal, catch a bus to the airport and get through customs, plane to another city, fingers crossed your bags arrive, find the airport city bus, bus into the city centre and then hike to your apartment. Before you do all this you have to work out all the logistics but for someone who used to be called Tommy Trip Planner its a piece of cake especially as we now have the iPad and everything readily accessible on the Internet. In the mean time, Jen checks out the things to do in the next town, edits what I write and finalises the photos for the blog. By now we know what each other strengths are, perfect foundation for a happy marriage!

Posted by tszeitli 09:10 Archived in France Tagged food scenery friends wine cooking provence Comments (1)

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