Wednesday, 16 September 2015

No crowds, empty cafés – you can’t beat Paris in the winter

mark hume
PARIS— From Saturday's Globe and Mail - Dec. 10, 2011

Friends told us Paris was different in the winter, that it was better, as if somehow the cold rains of November and December had washed away the false patina left by the tourist crowds of summer.

Paris, which has a population of just over two million, gets more than 35 million foreign visitors a year, and most of them come in the six months from May to October. Notre-Dame de Paris, the Gothic cathedral that looms majestically over Île de la Cité, gets 13.6 million visitors a year. At the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, which looks out from the heights of Montmarte, 10.5 million visitors annually are stunned into silence, and the Musée du Louvre, with a collection of art that is mind-numbing, draws 8.3 million tourists.

In the heat of summer, when Parisians largely flee to the seaside, tourism peaks. Want to meet an American in Paris? Book a trip in July or August. You will also meet a lot of people from a lot of countries – and most of them will be in front of you in a lineup.

The summer I first visited the Louvre, the most visited art museum in the world, the lines were Olympic-size. Two-plus hours after queuing up (and that was on a good day), I finally got to see Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile for a fleeting moment, before being pushed on by the shuffling conveyor belt of babbling tourists. It was like speed dating for art lovers.

Then there were the lineups for the toilets, where the panic was palpable.

So here were friends, e-mailing from Paris, to say there were no crowds – anywhere – except on the streets where Parisians were busy shopping, walking to work and café hopping. Our friends said with the hordes of tourists gone, the city, and its residents, had reverted to a more natural state.

“I will never visit Paris again in the summer,” wrote Lori, who with her partner, Charlie, had holed up for the winter in an apartment they had rented in le Marais, the city's historical centre. On a whim, we booked our tickets.

It is always a bit intimidating to land at a big airport after a long flight and face the challenge of getting into the heart of a city. A cab would take us to the street we wanted for €60, or $82, but with train service to Charles de Gaulle Airport, that seemed too safe and too costly an option. We'd take the train – if we could just figure out how.

That's when the young French student, in Paris for a job interview with Air France, offered to show us how to operate the ticket machine, where to catch the next outbound train, and then accompanied us until we got off at Gare du Nord, the sprawling train terminal that links to a network of Paris Métro lines. In the chaos of the station another Parisian guided us to the taxi stand, which had moved because of construction. He just thought we looked a little confused, and wanted to help. In Paris, you don't expect such common kindness, because the residents are notorious for their cool indifference. But that appears to be a summer thing, for in late November we found a different city, and a different people. Parisians were relaxed and welcoming; good-humoured even when we mangled their beautiful language.

This time, it took five minutes to get into the Louvre, and although you couldn't be alone with Mona Lisa (there will always be at least 20 people, with flash cameras, in front of that portrait), you could stroll through a nearly empty gallery to gaze upon Michelangelo's statue The Dying Slave without anyone to bother you.

A day later, in the uncrowded Musée Rodin, we wandered from room to room in the 18th-century mansion where the father of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin, once lived. It was so quiet you could hear the floorboards creak, and I had the feeling we'd somehow stumbled in after hours.

Later, we discovered last-minute tickets were available for a concert at Notre Dame. Gazing up at the vaulted ceiling, where the choral voices rose into the echoing darkness, it was hard to believe this was not an event that you had to book weeks in advance. But we just asked for tickets, and the woman at the booth said, “Come half an hour before; there will be seats for you.” And there were – right near the front.

There were also no lineups to get a table at the small cafés around Sacré-Coeur, which are packed all summer. As we sat outside in the pale November sun, warmed by propane heaters and coffee, we were surprised to find that Parisians were interested in where we were from. They wondered what we thought of their great city. They made sure we got the right change, offered directions on the streets and when we worked up the courage to use the self-service Vélib bicycle system, we encountered the most unexpected thing of all – courteous drivers.

In short, Paris in winter was a revelation.

Click here to experience Paris in winter without the crowds yourself with a short term apartment or villa rental with European Home Rentals, specialists in renting weekly short-term vacation rentals apartments, houses, cottages and villas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Guide to the top Cheese Shops of Paris

Paris, usually known as a classy, stylish city, also has a cheesy side—fromage, that is. France has over 300 different kinds of regional cheeses and for those who aren't able to travel around the whole country, the capital city offers a perfect sampling.
It is a joy stopping at a cheese shop for the delights behind the display cases or sitting down in a bar to enjoy an expert's pairing, before continuing on your way strolling along the boulevards and museums of Paris. The choices are as varied as the cheeses themselves.
Here is a sampler of some of the many places where one can experience cheese in Paris:

Several restaurants and wine bars put the emphasis on cheese, one of the more successful at achieving this is Pain, Vin, Fromage. Located in the Marais (3 rue Geoffroy l’Angevin) this quaint cheese bar is like a little mountain getaway in the middle of the city, this bar boasts the look of a mountain chalet, complete with cow bells hanging about, and a menu of fresh cheese and wine pairings. There are some 50 cheeses that are served in recipes such as fondue, raclette, tratiflette and toasted open sandwiches on three types of bread (sesame seeds, poppy seeds or plain).

If traditional alpine dishes of fondues, raclettes, tartiflettes and other melted cheese specialties are one of your firm favourites then Les Montagnards is the place to go. Located in the 1st arrondissement (58 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau) Les Montagnards has created a typical Rhone-Alps atmosphere with a red and white décor, old skies and sleds on the wall, for which to enjoy delicious fondues with three or four cheeses, raclettes, a hot box of mont d’or, or platters of cheeses and crudités to enjoy with these melted cheeses. It is a place of the classic melted cheeses

But if dinning on cheese is not your thing and you prefer to nibble Paris is full of master cheese seller and “affineurs” (cheese ripeners)

On Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement you will find Androuet , (134, rue Mouffetard) a Parisian institution, it was founded in 1909 and has played an important role in the introducing of the different traditions and expert cheese making in the different regions of France to Parisians. This cheese house, which today has six shops, offers more then 200 types of French cheese, as well as a large selection of European specialties such as gruyere, manchego, stilton, parmesan, etc.

Quatrehomme (62, rue de Sevres) in the 7th arrondissement, is also a trustworthy spot in which to find cheese. Marie Quatrehomme (the first woman to have been voted Meilleur ouvrier de France in the category for cheese) has been supplying the best restaurants with top cheeses since 1953. She offers over 200 different cheeses, including hard-to-find specialties like comté aged for 4 years or 100-day old goat cheese.

La Ferme Saint-Aubin on the Ile St Louis is reputed to be the best affineurs cheese shop in Paris (76 rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile) the store buys cheeses from producers around France and then ages them in its cellar. The store also sells fine jams, ropes of chorizo, Bordeaux wines and fresh-made terrines.

Since 1990, Maryse and William Jounnault at Frommagerie Jouannault (39 rue de Bretagne) in the 8th district have welcomed you to a wide selection of cheeses. Their daughter Priscilla and her husband Nicolas select the best cheeses by travelling extensivley to meet their producers/ suppliers as often as possible to maintain the quality.
These cheese are then refined in their maturing cellar where Nicolas cares every day, with the greatest respect for traditional craftsmanship, while Priscilla loves to makes beautiful cheese platters and pairings.

One thing to notes is that when you wish to take your cheese selection home after your travels ask the cheese shops to vacuum pack your selections. Not only will this allow for the cheeses preservation but has the added bonus of no odor in your luggage!

If this has only wet your appetite for all things cheese Click here to experience the Cheese shops and Restaurants of Paris, yourself with a short term apartment or villa rental with European Home Rentals, specialists in renting weekly short-term vacation rentals apartments, houses, cottages and villas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece

Cathedrale St Etienne, St Stephen Cathedral, Bourges, Loire Valley, France

The Cathedrale St-Etienne is a magnificent early Gothic structure very much on par with its more famous neighbours to the north, Chartres and Notre Dame de Paris.

Listed as a World Heritage Monument by UNESCO in 1992, Bourges Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in France.
The apse and choir were built between 1195 and 1215 during the first construction campaign.  A second campaign followed, between 1225 and 1260 when the nave and façade were built. Most notably in the design of the cathedral is that it has no transepts, the cross shape found in most churches, which gives the cathedral a unique appearance, both inside and out.  Without the break-up of the transept the visitor is offered a much longer view down the nave, which is made more striking by the height of the ceiling.

There is the use of the flying buttresses to help support the wide structure. However as this was still a relatively new technique of the time the walls of the Cathedral were still made noticeably quite thick, as compared to later structures of the time. 

The western façade, is the main entrance and contains the unusual number of 5 portals. The façade over the central portal represents the Last Judgement; this is a masterpiece of 13th century sculpture.   It is a grandiose sculptural depiction where images of Hell swarm with demons and creatures in the torments of despair. The two doorways to the left were restored in the 16th century; the first shows scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.  The second is devoted to life of St William, the first Archbishop of Bourges.  The doorways to the right are dedicated to St Steven, the patron Saint Etienne, and the other to St Ursin, the first bishop of Bourges 

The cathedral of St Etienne de Bourges has one of the most beautiful sets of stained glass in France, made between the 11th and 17th centuries, and is attributed to three different workshops led by anonymous masters, though most of the glass dates from the 13th century, overlapping its creation to the stained-glass windows of Chartres

Click here to experience this unique UNESCO site of the Cathedral St Etienne de Bourges in the Loire Valley, yourself with a short term apartment or villa rental with European Home Rentals, specialists in renting weekly short-term vacation rentals apartments, houses, cottages and villas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece

The Statue of Liberty….. in Paris!!

It is common knowledge that there is a Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York Harbour in the United States. But what is not so commonly know is that there are two Statue of Liberties in Paris France.

The original Statue of Liberty in New York was a gift from the French people to the American people as a memorial to their Independence.

It was built and designed by French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi. Started in 1875 the head was completed in 1878 in time to be displayed for the World’s Fair in Paris, the same fair that also saw the introduction of the Eiffel Tower to the world. The Statue was finally competed in 1884 and presented to the American People on July 4th and officially unveiled New York in 1886.

In a reciprocal gesture to the French people, a group of Americans living in Paris in 1889, presented a one-forth height copy of the Statue of Liberty in Paris. The Statue is located on the Pont de Grenelle, which stretches the Seine River on the Ile des Cygnes (island of the Swans) in the south-west area of Paris between the 15th and 16th districts. It faces west towards her larger sister across the ocean.

There is also a version in the Jardin du Luxembourg a small-scale model by used by Bartholdi when designing the one in New York.

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Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris a Self Guide

The city of Paris’ cathedral Notre Dame ranks as one of the greatest achievements of Gothic architecture in the world. Notre Dame was begun in 1163 and completed around 1345, taking over 170 years; the massive interior can accommodate over 6000 worshippers.

Although Notre Dame is regarded as a sublime architectural achievement, there are all sorts of minor anomalies as a result of the different architects who worked on the cathedral. Some of these anomalies include the trio of main entrances that are each shaped differently from the other. The flying buttresses that were added to the design under the eighth builder, they were built around the choir in about 1350 when stress cracks began to appear in the walls as they grew higher, and the Rose Windows; the North and South Rose windows in the transepts are noticeably larger then that of the Western Rose Window.

The three spectacular and enormous Rose Windows dominate the interior. The Western Rose Window is directly over the main portal and depicts the Virgin, whom the Cathedral is dedicated, surrounded by figures of the Old Testament and zodiacal symbols and was completed in 1225 and measures 10 meters in diameter and was the largest ever attempted at its time of construction. The Southern Rose Window lies over the Southern Portal of the transept, as that of the Northern Rose Window in the North transept, rises over 13 meters, (43 Feet) in height or a staggering 19 meters if you include the bays in which they sit and were completed by 1270, 50 years later then the Western Rose Window. The larger windows are a direct result of improved technology and building techniques that changed over the 50 years from the completion of the Western Rose Window.
The Northern Rose window is considered to be the most splendid of the three as it has much of its original glass and also depicts The Virgin. The Southern Rose Window is dedicated to Jesus and the New Testament, though with two major restorations much of the original glass is gone and the missing and broken medallions were put back in the spirit of overall authenticity rather then accuracy.

From the base of the north tower of the western façade, visitors can climb to the roof top level of the cathedral to access a close view of the cathedral's many gargoyles on the Galerie des Chimere

The western façade, above the three main portals has a row of twenty-eight statues, the Galerie de Rois, depicting the Kings of Judea, from whom Christ was descended. During medieval times these were painted brilliant colours. In the French Revolution the crowds pulled these statues down, mistakenly thinking that they represented French kings. They were restored in the mid 19th century. Above the Gallery, in the center, over the center portal, is a statue of the Virgin and Child with two angles flanking them; on the far left, over the left portal, is a statue of Adam and the far right side over the right portal is a statue of Eve. The whole work symbolizes the Redemption of Man after the Fall of Man.

Click here to experience the Gothic Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, yourself with a short term apartment or villa rental with European Home Rentals, specialists in renting weekly short-term vacation rentals apartments, houses, cottages and villas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece

Notre Dame de Paris Gargoyles on the Galerie des Chimere.

Gargoyles are stone carvings found on Gothic buildings.  They were designed as waterspouts to direct rainwater way from the roof and sides of a building. A trough is cut in the back of the gargoyle and rainwater typically exits through the open mouth. Gargoyles usually depict an elongated animal.  Everything is elongated because the length of the gargoyle is important as to how far water is thrown from the wall.
The term gargoyle originates from the French gargouille, which in English literally means "throat" or "gullet"

Some of most fantastical and ornate gargoyles can be found on medieval churches.  The Church used them to portray messages to the common people. Since literacy was uncommon, images were the best way to convey ideas. Gargoyles were used as a representation of evil.  The most common representation of evil used by the Church were chimeras. Chimeras are creatures that are mixes of different types of animal body parts to create a new creature. Some of the more notable chimeras are griffins, centaurs, harpies, and mermaids. Chimeras often served as a warning to people who underestimated the devil.
Technically chimeras are not gargoyles, they are grotesques, as they did not act as rainspouts and served more as ornamentation and warnings, but are now they are synonymous with gargoyles.

The most famous examples of chimeras are located at Notre Dame de Paris on the Galerie des Chimere.  Visitors can climb to the upper parts of the façade and are able to gain access to the chimeras/ gargoyles on the Galerie des Chimère 

Click here to experience the gargoyles of Paris yourself with a short term apartment or villa rental with European Home Rentals, specialists in renting weekly short-term vacation rentals apartments, houses, cottages and villas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece