A Travellerspoint blog

Paris in the autumn

I head off to the French capital for a short visit. Long post, but lots of photos

sunny 23 °C

Monday morning, and I was off on my last mini-trip before I start my big Eurotrip. I packed my bags in the morning for destination Paris, and Rich gave me a lift to the station. But the train was running twenty minutes late, and I was going to miss my connection to London. But Rich stepped in and saved the day, very kindly giving me a lift into town.

The rest of the trip passed without fuss, though, and after catching the Eurostar, I alighted in France for the first time. I walked towards my hotel, but after seemingly wandering in circles for half an hour, I gave up and caught the underground Métro. Looking on the map, I can’t believe how far I had walked, and how far away I was from my intended destination!

It all ended well, though, and after settling into my cigarette-smelling room, I got back on the Métro for the Arc de Triomphe (my spell check is going to have a field day in Europe). It was unbelievable, to walk up the steps of the station and have such a magnificent site come into view, with the sunset casting a delicate soft light on the monument.

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I walked down the famous Champs-Elysées (pronounced shom-ze-lee-zay, not champs-eh-lie-sees), trying to find a cheapish meal, or if that wasn’t possible (and it wasn’t), the Eiffel Tower. I probably let slip another gasp as the Tower came into view – it was brilliantly lit up against the night sky, with the moon sitting just behind it.

6Le_Tour_Eiffel.jpgTour_Eiffel_2.jpgThe Seine

The Seine

I took a few photos, but was too hungry to think about climbing up, so I returned to the hotel and picked up a kebab from a local shop. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Paris, eat kebabs.

I needed all of the kebab’s energy as I embarked on a long afternoon of sightseeing the following day. After taking the Métro to le Place de la Concorde, and seeing the stupendous monument covered in hieroglyphics, I walked through the beautiful Jardin (garden) des Tuileries and then along the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay. It was a 45-minute wait in line, an all-too-common occurrence in such a tourism haven.

Jardin (garden) des Tuileries

Jardin (garden) des Tuileries

Jardin_des_Tuileries.jpgLooking towards Le Arc de Triomphe from Le Place de Concord

Looking towards Le Arc de Triomphe from Le Place de Concord

But I managed to cotton on to what seems like a bit of a scam. A perfectly legal scam that actually saves me money: free entry to all museums and art galleries for EU citizens under 26. Apparently it goes back to politicians wanting to make them all free for French ‘youths’, but under EU law this was deemed discriminatory, so they extended it to everyone. I just present my British passport and walk in!

And for a free attraction, it’s certainly a pretty good one. You know an art gallery is good when guys like Cezanne have their works shoved in a corner. And the building itself is very impressive, a grand, well-lit, open space, with statues scattered around the hall and a huge clock dominating one wall.

Musée_d'Orsay thanks to vangogho (wikipedia user)

Musée_d'Orsay thanks to vangogho (wikipedia user)

For what it’s worth (not much), these were my top three works (obviously they looked better up close, Renoir’s, for instance, seemed to sparkle in the light of the gallery): Painting Jury by Henri Gervex

Painting Jury by Henri Gervex

Ours Blanc by Francois Poupon

Ours Blanc by Francois Poupon

Le Moulin de la Galette by Renoir

Le Moulin de la Galette by Renoir

I walked back across and along the river to the Île de la Cité, an island in the river which has been a focal point in the history of Paris for hundreds of years. I had a quick rest in a square on the end of the island, enjoying the peace and getting some energy back before I tackled the Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the most famous and extravagant in the world.

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After admiring the front of the church, an incredible example of Gothic architecture (or so I’m told), I joined the queue to go inside. It was an incredible space, with magnificent stained glass windows and incredibly high ceilings. Without all the pesky tourists crowding the paths and making noise it would have been even nicer. I decided not to wait in the queue to go up to the tower, instead pushing on.

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I did have to wait in a queue for the next attraction, though, another church, Sainte-Chapelle. Significantly smaller than its neighbour, Sainte-Chapelle nonetheless packs them in because of its incredible windows. The French certainly know how to build a grand church!

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I had a brief look outside the Palais du Justice, the court, and caught a few snippets of conversations between French lawyers out on their cigarette break (very high smoking rate in Paris, it appeared to me). I dropped in on La Conciergerie, which served as a prison and a courtroom during the Revolution, housing such celebrity prisoners as Marie Antoinette.

Le Palais de Justice (court)

Le Palais de Justice (court)

Le Conciergerie

Le Conciergerie

The women's courtyard in le Conciergerie

The women's courtyard in le Conciergerie

It was also one site were guillotines were popular, with the execution-hungry republican court ordering many of the city’s elite and royalists to their deaths.

I crossed back on to the mainland to St. Germain-des-Prés, one of the oldest districts in the city. I started at the incredible Jardins du Luxembourg, one of the most exquisite green spaces I’ve ever seen. Statues adorn the well-manicured lawns, benches galore sit under large trees, while a giant fountain sits in front of the Palais, once a royal residence and now the home of the French Senate.

Le Jardin de Luxembourg

Le Jardin de Luxembourg

Jardin_de_Luxembourg.jpgThe French Senate

The French Senate

Then I was back on to churches, visiting two within an hour and taking my tally for the day to four. The Eglise (church) St-Sulpice houses a 6700-pipe organ, as well as a number of small chapels scattered around its corners. In another town, it would be a primary attraction, but in Paris it’s probably just in the top five churches. Arguably.

The 6700-pipe organ in St-Sulpice

The 6700-pipe organ in St-Sulpice

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The last stop was the Eglise St-Germai-des-Prés, the oldest church in Paris, dating back to the 6th Century. I was probably a bit too tired to fully appreciate it, but I did like the frescoes along the wall and a statue of the main man himself.

Statue of St-Germain des Paris

Statue of St-Germain des Paris

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I picked up some supplies at the supermarket before heading back. One of the many things I learnt today is that French sounds much better in my head than when it comes out of my mouth. I found that I did remember a fair amount from school (I did do French for two years), but I’m horribly out of practice and this lack of confidence means that whatever I say sounds meek and pathetic.

Plus, my vocab is slightly dodgy. At a patisserie, I ordered what I thought was some sort of potato pastry, but it turns out I confused ‘pommes’ with ‘pommes du terre’, and I ended up with an apple pie. Could have been worse…

Posted by sammyhez 18:30 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

Climbing, coaching, and mining

More photos of the magic bridge, a cricket session, and a drive north to the Cardiff valleys

semi-overcast 17 °C

On Saturday, we were up early and went to the transporter bridge again for our chance to walk along the top. They only open it up a few times a year, and the views made the steep climb more than worth it.

In the afternoon, we returned to the house and I prepared for a cricket session Richard had organised with two youngsters from nearby. It was only when we met that I realised that they wanted me to coach them…

But it wasn’t too difficult, mostly because they were such enthusiastic cricketers.

Tom is a young fast bowler who, as a batsman, tries to hit everything for six over midwicket, and is generally pretty good at it. Apart from some footwork issues, there wasn’t much I could do for him.

Ben, however, is a wrist spinner who bowls wrong ‘uns rather than leg spinning-deliveries. It was pretty difficult to explain to a ten year-old the biomechanics of leg spin, for three reasons: it’s reasonably complicated, I don’t know how much he knows, and indeed, I don’t know anything about it myself.

I grabbed the ball off him in an attempt to show him how to do it, and proceeded to bowl a pearler that pitched outside leg, spun past Tom’s outside edge and hit middle stump. A total fluke, but it made them think that I knew what I was talking about.

As a batsman, he tends to follow the Phillip Hughes School of Backing Away to Leg, so I tried to get that out of his game. I think he’s still just a bit scared of the ball.

Anyway, it was good fun and we agreed to meet again the following weekend.

I woke up on Sunday to the brilliant news that I had won all three of my Supercoach grand finals, pretty impressive given that I’ve been away all season. Or maybe it just reflects badly on my competition.

It looked like a nice day and we had sightseeing to do, so we packed a picnic and headed towards the South Wales valleys. After a quick walk along the canals in New Inn, we got back in the car and went to Blaenavon. For a brief period, this region had some of the most sought-after coal in the world, but with the closure of mines, people have moved away, there has been a rise in unemployment and a decline in services.

Small Blaenavon has turned to tourism to address this. There’s a very interesting ridge surrounding the town, which is, I’m told, the remains of slag heaps from the coal mining years.

There’s also a few museums and sites dedicated to the former industrial activity of the area. The biggest and best of these is the Big Pit. Many of the guides are former miners themselves, and the best part of the site is the underground tour. Kitted out with a helmet and torch, a miner with a very strong Welsh accent leads you into the tiny lift with fifteen other tourists and down you go into the dark depths of the earth; in this case, about 90m underground.

We heard about the six- and seven-year-olds that used to work there, we heard about the potential for accidents and their devastating impact, and we heard about how little the workers were paid. We saw the stables of the pit ponies, who would live and die underground until the 1940s when they were granted with two weeks above the surface per year.

Back in the sunlight, we also saw a few other exhibits. One was on the more modern machine-based methods of mining, one the miners’ showers and lockers, another detailed the history of the area (in one year to the late 19th Century, the towns were growing so rapidly that there was a new church built in Wales every eight days!).

After a picnic in the freezing wind overlooking the town, we drove to the ironworks. This showed the life of the community and workers in an even older, even more perilous industry. The reconstructed houses were brilliant, and the metal horses in the yard sent Benson the dog into a frenzy.

Back home we drove, passing through the exquisite scenery of the valleys on our way into Cardiff.

Posted by sammyhez 23:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged newport blaenavon Comments (0)

The magic bridge

I say goodbye to everyone in Aberaeron and finish up at work, too

sunny 19 °C

We bid farewell to Daffyd and Joe on Tuesday morning, as they headed for their homes in Inger-land, and Nana and I managed to get Grampy to the wheelchair and load up the car to go to the Celtic. Grampy wasn’t impressed with the level of noise in the basement, but we had an OK meal in the busy restaurant and went out to do some grocery shopping.

I went for a walk down the Cwmmins in the evening, taking in the fresh air before heading home for a huge and delicious dinner from Nana.

On Wednesday morning I managed to find the Sri Lanka vs. Australia test on Eurosport, which made for a nice start to the day as I devoured a few weet-bix.

Keen for a bit of adventure, we took the car to my aunt Mair’s house in New Quay, and she took over the wheel as we drove to Llangranog, a lovely beach on the west coast, which was very crowded in the final week of school holidays. Grampy was not impressed with the roads, saying multiple times (mostly in jest) that he was in hell, but the scenery was slightly nicer than what I expect hell’s scenery would be. More green, certainly.

He did like his scone with jam and cream, though, and we had a nice meal overlooking the beach, before jumping back in the car and heading home. In the evening I went for another walk, picking up some extra supplies at Costcutter, and had an even bigger and even lovelier meal from Nana, and just managed not to burst from being so full.

Thursday morning was my final morning in Aberaeron until my next visit, whenever that may be. I had a good chat with Nana as we watched Grampy’s current favourite film, ‘Titanic’ (Nana reckons she knows the script by heart). We said our goodbyes and she very kindly gave me a lift into town for the afternoon bus.

The three and a half hour bus journey felt like a very long one indeed, and then after catching the train and a short walk, I was back in the big city and ready for a meal.

I went into work for the final time on Friday, no really because I had things to finish off, but mostly because I wanted to say goodbye to my colleagues. When we left, though, the people I most wanted to see were out on an errand, so that was that.

As a treat, we drove to the Newport Transporter Bridge, a magic bridge that uses incredibly powerful magnets to levitate a gondola over the river, as in the picture below.

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Nah, that’s my photoshopped picture (clue: the sky is blue, and it’s in Wales – two phenomena that don’t match). It works as below, using cables, but that’s not quite as impressive. What is impressive is that there are only six such bridges left in the world, so it’s one of Newport’s very few claims to fame.

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In the evening we walked over to the Griffin, the semi-local pub, for a drink with the neighbouring Hancock family.

Posted by sammyhez 21:55 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged newport aberaeron Comments (0)

Shipping up to Abers

I go up to Aberaeron for the final time in the trip, after my last two cricket matches are called off

overcast 18 °C

On Saturday morning I took the train and then the bus out to St Fagans for possibly my last league game for the season. Only, when I arrived at 12.20 for the meeting time of 12.30, I received a text from the captain telling me the game had been called off due to overnight rain. Great.

A couple of other unfortunate souls from the 3rds had made their way to the ground, and rather than head straight home, we decided to play a game of rubber band ball cricket in the nets. With all sorts of crazy rules, and all manner of crazy bounces from the elastic ball, it kept us entertained for a while, and we watched the 2nds tear Usk to pieces.

I headed home, only to wait more than an hour as a bus was cancelled/didn’t come, eventually getting back soaking wet, more than five hours after I first left, with only a half-hour game in the nets to show for it.

I filled my need for cricket by watching the English domestic Twenty20 finals day, which included two ties in three games, eventually won by Victorian Andrew McDonald’s Leicestershire.

The Sunday game was also called off, but at least it was called off early, so I could make plans. With Rich, Trace and Molly away for the long weekend, I decided to head down to Aberaeron and see the family again.

I slowly packed, called home, and did my washing, then went into town and caught the long distance coach. I must have been the youngest person on the bus by sixty years, but I was the one who slept most of the way, eventually making it to Aberaeron intact despite the winding roads.

I hadn’t told Nana that I was going, as I didn’t want her to worry about food, but the first thing she said when I walk through the door is that I ‘should have come half an hour earlier, Daffyd’s just gone to town to get a curry’. Should have expected it.

Daffyd was there with his son and my younger cousin Joe, who I hadn’t seen since 2006, so it was good to catch up with him again.

On Bank Holiday Monday I went go karting in the morning with Joe and Daff, dressing up like lunatics and speeding around the track in a similar fashion, but I was certainly no match for my relatives. We returned home, and while Daffyd went out for a reunion with his mates, Joe, Nana and I took Grampy out to Llanerchaeron for his customary crumble.

It wasn’t a bad afternoon weather-wise, and soon after we got back Joe and I walked into town to have a look at the Aberaeron Carnival. It’s very tacky, but a bit of fun, I suppose. Mum was part of one of the floats in her early teens, which made for an amusing picture.

We had a great dinner followed up by a Mars ice cream, and I finally got around to watching ‘Inception’ in the evening, certainly worth the wait. Possibly should have been writing my blog, though…

Posted by sammyhez 21:37 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged aberaeron Comments (0)

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