Monday, May 20, 2013

Back to normal

We've been back in Canberra a week now and feeling like we're getting "back to normal". We had really missed the girls while we were away and were lucky enough to catch up with them a few times during the week.  They came over on Saturday for brunch and we spent ages playing in our messy back garden. Ella had fun teaching Abi about piles of Autumn leaves.

When we first saw Ella her beautiful new front teeth were very evident. She must have gown even taller too as Rob and Josh had to make a few adjustments to the play equipment so her feet wouldn't touch the ground.  It's Ella's 6th birthday this week and in her second term at big school is making great progress with her reading. She was able to read (independently) most of the message on the birthday card we gave her this afternoon.

That stunning smile that lights up the world is pure Ella, including those very grown up new front teeth.

Ella always brings us drawings and sometimes carefully wrapped and beribboned treasures she creates for us.  Today we were lucky enough to receive this life size self portrait - perfect.

But we noticed even bigger changes in Abi over the past 6 weeks. She's looking so much like her beautiful Mummy - with plenty of hair, and now cut in a cute bob. Abi understands just about everything you say to her and has very definite ideas about what she wants (and doesn't want). She's very active and a fast mover but has no concept of risk management as yet. She's got a great sense of fun and loves a joke. She screws her nose up and laughs with her whole face when she thinks something is funny (which is often). Like Ella at the same age she uses her hands and fingers with great delicacy and precision - and she has tiny feet - cuteness personified.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Au revoir

We spent most of our last day in Paris in Montmartre. An easy Metro ride that started at Rambuteau and ended at Blanche brought us virtually to the doorstep of one of Montmartre's most recognizable (and cheesiest) landmarks.

...but I like the earby Hector Guimard designed Art Nouveau entrance for Blanche Metro much better.

...and walking the picturesque streets of the Montmartre butte is our favourite thing to do (and we all agree that Rue Lepic is the best foodie street we've seen so far this week).

We enjoy seeing our second moulin - the remains of the famous Moulin de Galette...and start to picture how this area would have looked in the days of Renoir and Toulouse Lautrec (and Picasso and the rest).

As we climb higher nearing the bend to Rue Cortot we see the famous Montmartre vineyard, the only remaining and working vineyard in Paris - and a reminder that this district was once covered in vines.

In Rue Cortot we introduce Ros and Pete to our favourite little Musee Montmartre - which houses  changing exhibitions celebrating the art and life of Montmartre in the oldest house in the district - where, at different times, Renoir, Utrillo and Degas have all made their homes.

Parts of the front garden are being reconstructed. This new swing in this rather bland newly planted area marks the spot where Renoir painted his La Balancoire (girl on a swing) in 1876.

The back garden of the Musee Montmartre overlooks the old vineyard.

We all found the current exhibition, tracking the art, history and politics of the famous Montmartre Concert - Cabaret , Le Chat Noir, very interesting, and very helpful in understanding the history of the Paris Commune era that was the context for all the emerging art movements of the latter part of the 19th century.  Very few people must know about this precious little museum as there are no queues and few visitors...wonderful for us.

As we emerge into the crowds of tourists around Sacre - Couer we find some unexpected foodie delights, a wonderful coconut flavoured macaron for me (and a first try of a macaron for Ros).

..and some roasted saucisson on baguette for the boys.

The Basilique Sacre-Couer is crowded with tourists and touts today and a lengthy queue to view the interior and dome. We don't find the church is an architectural marvel - apart from its amazing setting, so we vote to just admire its distinctive exterior (and great views over Paris) today.

We pick a different route for our descent down the butte, that includes a peek at the Bateau Lavoir, Picasso's famous home and studio on Montmartre at one stage. At least the street artists are active in this district still today.

We enjoy lunch at a character filled cafe on Rue des Abbesses, before catching the Metro back to Opera - to emerge from the station to the awe inspiring sight of Charles Garnier's wedding cake of a gilded building.

From here we walk to the nearby Galleries la Fayettes on Boulevard Haussman and admire the gorgeous interior (and the gorgeous Aussie Simon Baker - now modelling for Givenchy).

After fighting our way past the queues of Chinese tourists spilling out of the designer handbag boutiques in la Fayette we made our way south through Place Vendome (noting the massive reconstruction underway of the old Ritz Hotel) to the fabulous Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore.  We walked as far as the Palais de l'Elysee before catching the Metro from Champs Elysees back to Hotel de Ville, and then time for a well deserved Hoegaarden at our new fave bar in Rue Veille du Temple.

Even the fabulously well heeled had to queue to enter Laduree for their afternoon macarons today.

For our last evening in Paris together we decided to have a sunset picnic on the banks of the Seine, on the pretty l'Isle de St Louis, with our bottle of St Emilion red, a gorgeous apertivo board and some of Victor's wonderful bread.

We were right beside Pont Louis Philippe which appeared progressively more spectacular as the sun was setting, as did the rest of this magical city!

We ended this wonderful night with one of Berthillon's salted caramel icecreams and a walk across to l'Isle de la Cite. We were lucky enough to enjoy some wonderful music by a classical duo as we crossed the bridge, just to the rear of Notre Dame - which looked stunningly beautiful in the late evening light.  What a magical city!!!       Nous aimons Paris

Friday, May 10, 2013

Left Bank

We crossed the Seine to the Left Bank for a day of walking and exploring - and food appreciation - on Thursday.

We started in the forecourt of Notre Dame, which is currently cluttered with all sorts of temporary constructions being utilised this week for celebrations of the 850th anniversary of Paris's most beautiful cathedral. One of the big marquees was hosting a big promotion of "the grain". Inside there were dozens of artisan bakers doing their stuff with the freshest and most beautiful of ingredients......

It really made me appreciate just how much butter goes into a looks like it is almost half and half by weight!!!!!!

We crossed Pont au Double and found our way easily to Place Maubert with its early morning market in progress. At this time of the year its only the berries, asparagus and artichokes that look fresh and relatively local - although all the imported stuff looks beautiful too (including figs from Chile!).

Then we walked along Boulevard - St Germain, making our way to Odeon, then right at Rue de Buci (one of my favourite little streets on the left bank), although there was no morning market in progress here as I remembered it.

Although we are intrigued to find this book of Ellas (with strange headdresses) in this elegant bookshop's window display.

And Rob kept his eye out for signs of the busy street artists, as we've been taught to do since our time in Berlin.

We make it to Rue de l'Abbaye, past Eglise Saint - Germain des Pres...

We are somewhat nonplussed to see this poster....and to read that BRISBANE C'est la nouvelle ville cosmopolite d'Australie (!!!!) - (It is hosting the G20 in 2014). Unfortunately it starts Rob off on a bit of a rant when he thinks about Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott both playing a key role in hosting this event - his first political rant in a few weeks.

Luckily he's diverted by this little vignette (which still looks remarkable to us).

We're on a mission to introduce Ros and Pete to our favourite pattissier in Paris - Poilane, at number 8 Rue du Cherche- Midi.  Fortunately their pain au chocolat lives up to the wonderful memories of previous visits.

We try to find the big fresh food market in Boulevard Raspail, which is not operating today, so we make our way to Le Bon Marche (La Grande Epicerie de Paris) in Rue du Bac.  Le Bon Marche fronts on to a lovely little park - fiercely guarded today by a diminutive, dark haired middle aged Guardien, who watches us like a hawk in case we feed the pigeons or drop any litter (or start canoodling). We take ages enjoying the purchase of our picnic ingredients at Le Bon Marche: UNpasteurized milk cheese, Spanish jambon,  fresh salads, beautiful bread and almond croissants for dessert - and small bottles of Moet - just beautiful!

From here we make our way back to Le Pantheon in the Quartiere Latin, admiring the grandiose Eglise St Suplice long the way.

However we find that Le Pantheon, one of our favourite buildings in Paris, is under MAJOR repairs (100million euros worth over the next decade), and the dome is no longer accessible to visitors. There is a huge queue just to see the interior - so Ros and Pete decide to just enjoy the exterior on today's visit.

We make a decision to explore the nearby Luxembourg Gardens instead.....adding at least another 5 kilometres to an already BIG walking day.

.. ..but it is a spectacular sight to see thousands of Parisiennes out actively enjoying all the facilities of this extensive park - and hardly a tourist in sight.

It seemed to be a LONG walk back to the Marais and we all barely made it back to our new favourite bar in Rue Veille du Temple for a reviving Pelforth.  Afterwards we all collapsed for a few hours before meeting up again for a glass of wine and some more cheese!

We've finally realised why so many places have been closed in the last two days -  apparently it is a religious holiday in France (Ascension Day) - lucky for them, unlucky for us!