Tag Archives: France Provence Cote d’Azur

A whirlwind European Holiday

The last two weeks of August, I played the role of tourist guide to my sister, brother-in-law and 10-year old nephew for a 12-day European holiday.  Looking at the photographs I have taken (I was also their official photographer, mind you!), I am amazed that we actually covered a lot of places, experienced a lot of things in just less than two weeks!

Paris – Venice – Monaco – the mountainous Roya Valley – Cannes – winetasting in Provence, taking almost all modes of transport:  plane – boat – train – car – even a funicular!

This was their first time in Europe and coming from Dubai where the landscape is that of desert, sea, high rises and artificial resorts, what a big surprise for them to see so much natural beauty and staggering architecture Europe is famous for,  art and culture everywhere they went and the open society which is the opposite of conservative Middle East.

So how do I start?  I guess, if I share with you how we profited so much in those 12 days, then you might be able to get some idea how to enjoy  Europe in a whirlwind!

Day One – Arriving in Paris

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Paris rooftops: the zinc roofing and the orange chimneys Paris is famous for. 
Taken from our apartment window.

For a party of four adults and one child (my husband and I joined them), we needed a comfortable spacious place to stay where we can cook, do the laundry and gather around for some chat and aperitivos in the evening.  A simple hotel room  would not be appropriate so I booked a two-bedroom apartment at the 16th Arrondisement, walking distance to the train and metro stations.

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Our apartment building is just opposite the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his mother stayed in 1778, and where he died the same year.

Day Two – Paris sightseeing

We walked, took the sightseeing bus..all these to explore the City of Romance, Love, Fashion, Art….

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The savory display at Stohrer, one of the oldest patisseries in Paris. Nicolas STOHRER was the personal patisserie of King Louis XV.
rue Montorgueil, 2nd Arrondissement

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Patisserie Stohrer which opened in 1730 is classed as a historic monument because of its facade and interior decors.

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The domes of Paris

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The Eiffel Tower seen from Pont Bir-Hakeim

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Hotel des Invalides
By order of King Louis XIV, this building was built in 1670 to house and treat the aged and injured soldiers. The tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte is on display here.

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The Baroque-style Opera de Paris, designed by Charles Garnier for Emperor Napoleon III.  It now houses the National Academy of Music.

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A boutique’s window display at the Champs-Elysees

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A window display in Avenue Montaigne, one of the most expensive streets of Paris

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A pooch, a slim lady and a cigarette – that’s a real Parisian cliche!

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Painted stairs at the Abbesses station, the deepest of all metro stations in Paris.

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Basilica du Sacre-Coeur at night

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Treated to a nice Edith Piaf musical evening at Chez La Mere Catherine in Place du Tertre, Montmarte. This restaurant is one of the oldest bistrot in Paris, founded in 1793.

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Getting one’s portrait done in Place du Tertre (50euros for half an hour sitting)

Day Three – Disneyland Paris

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Disneyland Paris has never been part of my Parisian travel itineraries.  I thought it is only for the under 10’s.  I was only forced into it when my brother-in-law insisted that I must join them, if only to deal with everything written and spoken in French.  Thank goodness of this opportunity.  I actually like it and I intend to go back – on my own – so I could do a lot more photography.  There’s a great deal of photographic opportunities out there!

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The 5-star Disneyland Hotel, Paris

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Disneyland is like a fairytale land full of little girls in Snow White and Cinderella costumes

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It’s the place where you earn the right to look like a child, wear funny things and it would still be okay.

Day Four – Opera de Paris, shopping

One must not leave Paris without seeing the ornate interiors of the Opera.
I originally planned a trip to Versailles for my guests but since they didn’t have the luxury of time, I decided to take them to the Opera Garnier or simply known as Opera de Paris. This historic monument of the neo-Baroque style is regarded as one of the architectural masterpieces of its time.

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This part of their itinerary was a winner!

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An ideal Parisian souvenir that can be found at the Opera Garnier bookstore

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Stumbled upon this huge IPad store next to the Opera. This was a chance for my sister to buy this revolutionary tablet computer from Apple. She couldn’t buy it in Dubai as it was always out of stock.

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This new Apple showroom has just opened recently and it’s interesting to note that the building used to be the Bank of Portugal.  We wanted to look at their IPhone/Ipad accessories and the bilingual French sales assistant took us downstairs to what used to be the vault of the Bank and has now been transformed into a boutique.

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Notice the thickness of the iron door and the grills securing the vault.  I had to ask permission if I could take photos as I could see through  my peripheral vision some bulky security men hiding in corners.    Indeed, I got my wish!   Even if I was a gazillionaire, I probably would have no chance to take these photos if Bank of Portugal, Paris Opera branch did not shut down!

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Shopping at the world-famous Galeries Lafayette

The Byzantine Dome is 33 meters high and constitutes 10 columns of stained glass reinforced by a richly carved metallic floral motif. It plays a great part in setting up a scene where the customer will feel so great stirring up a strong desire to buy.

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We were not able to get inside the Notre Dame Cathedral that afternoon because a stupid promotional balloon of some telephone company was about to be released – of all places – at the grounds of a historic and religious monument! 

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Paris by Night via the Bateaux Moche – the Pont de la Concorde (Concorde Bridge, 1790)). 
The stones used on this bridge came from the Bastille prison when the latter was demolished during the French Revolution.

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Paris by Night – the Eiffel Tower

Day Five – Louvre Museum

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The Glass Pyramid at the courtyard of the Louvre Museum.  This is the biggest, serving as entrance to the museum, and is surrounded by three smaller pyramids.  A Chinese architect, I.M. Pei, designed it by order of then President Francois Miterrand.  It caused wide controversy as many people felt that this futuristic structure is out of place infront of the country’s most historic museum.  Now, after 26 years since its construction, it has become one of Paris’ great icons.

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The most-visited artwork in the Louvre, and the most famous painting in the world, is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, Monalisa.

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Another famous artwork – Venus de Milo

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Inside the Louvre

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The painted ceiling of the largest museum in the world

Day Six & Seven – Venice

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We flew to Venice from Paris and I was looking forward to photographing the archipelago from the sky, alas, it was a cloudy morning so this is all I got.  Seen is the 4km causeway which links Venice to the mainland.

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The city comprises of 117 islands formed by 177 canals …..

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…and connected by 455 bridges

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This is my first time to see flooding in St Mark’s Square.   It is caused by unusually high tide which happens only betwen September-April.  This scene happened on August 25, hence this winter-only occurrence came few days early.

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A must-do when in Venice is to hang around St Mark’s Square at night and listen to the “battle of the orchestras” playing classical (and sometimes latina) music. 

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The only way to see museums in the city is by foot or by water

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Venice being one of the most visited cities in the planet is always crowded with tourists.  I dreaded going there in August, the peak of the tourist season, but it was not at all bad since the residents where also away for their holidays.

Day Eight to Ten – Roya Valley (France) and Ventimiglia (Italy)

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Saorge, one of the most beautiful villages in France

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The old town of Ventimiglia, Italy

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The Piaggo truck, perfect for cruising the narrow streets of Italy

Day Eleven – Nice and Monaco

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Nice

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Fireworks along the Promenade des Anglais, to celebrate the end the summer season

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The Principality of Monaco

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Casino de Montecarlo, as reflected from a concave mirror in the garden fronting it.

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The Belle Epoque style Casino de Monte Carlo was created by Charles Garnier, the same architect who designed the Opera Garnier in Paris.

We were able to get inside the gaming rooms and observed the graceful movement of the casino staff.  For as low as 5euros, we could have tried the black jack or the roulette but we need to go to a casino school first to learn the game.

Day Twelve – Cannes and Wine-tasting in Provence

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Cannes is a favourite stop-off point by cruise ships from around the world

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The sandy beach is the place to be seen

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The art-deco style Hotel Martinez whose suite is dubbed as the most expensive suite in the world, houses film stars attending the annual Cannes Film Festival.

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A visit to Chateau Sainte Roseline in the Var in Provence….

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 ….for some wine-tasting experience!

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A vineyard in Provence

So that’s it, folks!  A whirlwind holiday which made me lose weight in a whirlwind, too! 

Two Rivieras in two days

Planes, trains and automobiles……no, I’m not talking about the film, I’m talking about these forms of transport that took us home last weekend. But complicated or not, the excitement kicks off as soon as the plane starts to descend and the sight of the Cote d’Azur (in French) or the French Riviera (in English) unfolds before your eyes.  And because it’s the holiday season, tourists abound everywhere.

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After our passing sight of Nice in the French Riviera, the next day, we drove to the Italian Riviera to cool off and that means jumping into the Mediterranean water for the first time – this year!

Wow, that was the most refreshing and invigorating swim I’ve had in a long time!  I also discovered that seawater could sooth aches and pains.  I’ve been getting  pain on my lower back probably due to bad sitting posture and that swim took the pain out like magic! 

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Of course, whether in my bathing suit or not, the camera will always be there.

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I would have missed these shots if I didn’t have it.

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While people in Southeast Asia would spend a fortune on whitening creams, European women adore getting tanned! 

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Swimming in this part of the Italian Riviera is very pleasant.  You get to see amazing views like this from the water.

Images of Provence

It was our intention to drive towards Paris but first, we  had to stop in Provence for some errands.  We miss this region of vineyards and olive trees, having lived here for eight years until we sold up and moved back to the Alpes Maritimes.  (“Moved back” because that’s where we lived before relocating to Provence.)

The climate in Provence is hotter, reaching around 48degrees in the peak of summer.  I used to see my neighbours doing their daily chores in their bathing suit and me, I would splashed myself in the outdoor shower five times a day!  I had to,  as the garden used to be my hangout from sunrise to sunset!  I was a passionate gardener!

Here are some images of Provence which I took during our two day stopover:

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The valley of Figanieres

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One of the many vineyards of Figanieres

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At the campsite grounds, I noticed a grand snail invasion

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Four blond beauties

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The 3€ French Riviera Tour

Yes, you read it right.  A French Riviera tour, in 3 hours, for 3-euros.  And it was not even planned!

We were supposed to collect our car in the Port of Saint Laurent du Var,  seaside town 15-minute drive from Nice and that means, taking the bus from our village then a train connection that will bring us to our destination. 

Bus No. 1:  From our village to Menton, a 40-minute drive costing only 1-euro

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You get this postcard beauty of Menton from the comfort of your bus seat.

At Menton, a train strike cancelled all train trips to Nice so we had no choice but to take the 2-hour bus trip to Nice.  We did not expect that it would be a much agreeable journey that would span several towns and villages.

Bus 2:  From Menton to Nice – 1 Euro

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The bus to Nice is very comfortable.

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Bus 3: Nice to Saint Laurent du Var – 1 Euro

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We have arrived!  And the car started all right.

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Back to home

A sightseeing journey that cost us only 3-euros!

The Sistine Chapel of the south of France

We were on our way to a late afternoon walk when we saw on the village bulletin board a notice of a concert to be held at a neighbouring village tonight. We looked at our watch, gosh, the show starts in 1.5 hours! So we cut short our hike to a 20-minuter, got changed and quickly drove to the venue.

Notre Dame des Fontaines

Situated in a remote woodland 8-minute drive from the medieval village of La Brigue, we have come across this chapel a few times during our walking tours but we never had the chance to see the interior as the door and windows were always locked.

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The chapel

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The writing says:
“Sanctuary of Notre Dame des Fontaines
12th century chapel, 15th century frescoes
Place of prayer and pilgrimage
Visitors, silence (please)”

Upon entering the chapel, we couldn’t believe what we saw! Frescoes covering the entire interior: the two side walls, the altar, the rear, the ceiling….we were instantly put in a trance!

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Judas Iscariot being de-gutted by a monkey (yikes!)

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These remarkable frescoes created by two Italian masters Canavesio and Baleison in 1492 recount the life of the Virgin Mary and the Passion of Christ in 25 scenes. More amazing is the Last Judgment painted on the rear of the chapel (picture above).

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The choir sang a cappella mediterranean songs typical of gypsy music from Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey and beyond

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They sang beautifully and with so much passion that I was on the edge of having goose pimples. And listen to this, when my attention momentarily turned to the frescoes on the wall, i felt there and then that their singing was perfectly blending into each holy scene! Just like in the movies, when the director calls for a choir chant as a musical background to render the scene more powerful! Truly, this group has the makings of a movie soundtrack chanters!

For their exceptional performance, they were actually given a standing ovation! And again, this show is free but we had to give 5-euros on our way out, otherwise, it’s embarrassing not to while the others brushing elbows with us were happily donating away