A Travellerspoint blog

Paris, The City of Light and Love

"Paris is always a good idea." ~ Audrey Hepburn

sunny 15 °C
View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Where did we stay? Hotel Baldi

Despite claims that it is one of the most cliched travel destinations in the world, you still get swept up in that Paris magic.
Paris may be full of tourists, and on occasion a dirty and busy sight, but it remains a magical sight.

For 3 days we experienced the art and history you only ever read about in books, and saw the sights you only ever see in movies.

How did we see Paris? We bought a 2 day Paris Pass ticket. This allows you 2 days on the Hop-on Hop-Off busses, as well as free entry and fast-track entrance to many different museums, including the Louvre. Paris is not a small city, so being able to take this bus, that stops at all the important sights, is really convenient.

Flying into Paris over the French Alps
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THE LOUVRE

This glass pyramid is the world largest museum. There are currently 38,000 pieces in the museum ranging from Egyptian to Islamic sculptures and art as well as the well-known Renaissance pieces. The Louvre Palace once housed the French royal family, but in 1682 Louis XIV moved the family to Versailles and left the Louvre as a place to display the royal art collection.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in front of the Louvre
It was built in 1808, to commemorate Napoleon's military victories and is abut half the size of its bigger brother down the other end of the Champs Élysées.
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The Louvre pyramid
A lot of controversy surrounded this pyramid when it was completed in 1989. The Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, was seen as not "French" enough to have a say in something as important as this. The glass pyramid was also deemed too modern and it was seen as sacrilegious to tamper with the classic French Renaissance of the Louvre Palace. The pyramid is also a symbol of death in Ancient Egypt and many still feel that it is completely out of place here.
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The pyramid from the inside
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The Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting. Unlike the other works of art in the Louvre, that simply hang on the wall with no protection, the Mona Lisa is held in glass case with the crowd kept back a few meters. The lady is quite small, and the crowd is difficult to push through, so make sure your camera has a good zoom function if you want a photo of her.
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Liberty Leading the People - Eugène Delacroix (1830)
The figure of Liberty is known to the French public as Marianne. Here she is holding the French tricolour, which remains the national flag of France today, while climbing over a barricade of bodies after the French Revolution.
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TUILERIES GARDENS

Queen Catherine de Medici built these gardens for her palace in 1564. After the French Revolution it was opened to the public. The gardens are beautifully kept with water features and lush grassy areas with an air of relaxation in the middle of a busy city.
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CHAMPS ELYSEES

Driving down the Champs Elysees, Joe Dassin's famous Aux Champs Elysees, plays over the loudspeaker of the bus. The song is definitely hard to get out of your head for the rest of the day, but captures the atmosphere of the area so well.
The Champs Elysees is a 1.9km avenue where the famous Arc de Triomphe is located.
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The Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower
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THE EIFFEL TOWER

The icon of Paris and the city's most famous landmark. Tour Eiffel is on every piece of souvenier and she watches you from most angles in Paris. Look up and you can see her peering over a building.

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Go stand in the queues at the Eiffel Tower in the late afternoon, somewhere between lunch and dinner. This will ensure you have enough time to get up to the top to see the sunset.

The lift moves between the wraught iron inside of the tower and it is fascinating to see the inside.
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The middle area has a glass panel which you can look at and walk over
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The view from the Eiffel Tower
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Lunch on the Eiffel Tower - Baguette and Red Wine
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MONTPARNASSE TOWER

Even though Montparnasse may look like a regular city skyscraper, the views are worth the visit. Pay a small fee to take the elevator up to the roof. Make sure to go just before sunset and to stay until the light show starts. The tower may have been constantly criticised by Parisians for looking out of place and ruining the view from the Eiffel Tower, but the view from Montparnasse is spectacular.

Montparnasse Tower as seen from the Eiffel Tower
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Beautiful views of Paris from Montparnasse
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PALAIS GARNIER, THE PARIS OPERA HOUSE

It has been called the most famous opera house in the world and is as much a Paris icon as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
The opera house is the location for the novel, The Phantom of the Opera, which the famous musical is based on.

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The auditorium and the famous chandelier
The stage is the largest one in Europe and can accommodate up to 450 people on it. It seats 1979. You cannot enter the auditorium, but can view it from one of the boxes above.
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The staircase
The famous musical number, Masquerade, from The Phantom of the Opera is performed on the staircase in the play and in the movie.
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View from the Opera house balcony
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NOTRE DAME

Notre Dame de Paris, meaning Our Lady of Paris, is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. I first learned about the Notre Dame while watching the well known Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The almost 400 steps up the Notre Dame are narrow and swirling and only a certain number of people are allowed at a time due to safety reasons. At the top you can imagine where Quasimodo was hiding and ringing the bells.
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The Gargoyles
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The view
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MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Midnight in Paris (2011) is seen as one of Woody Allen's best films in recent years. Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, gets drunk and lost in Paris and is transported back in time. We explored some of the sights of the movie.

Saint Etienne du Mont
This church is mentioned in Ernest Hemingway's novel, A Moveable Feast. It also makes it fitting then that when Gil sits on the steps of Saint Etienne, that he is picked up by a car that transports him to Paris in the 1920s, where he meets Hemingway. Throughout the movie, these steps play an important role as the area that transports him back in time.
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Shakespeare and Company
Beside being a location in the movie, this bookshop is quite famous in its own right. The original store opened in the 1920s, but closed down in 1941 during the German occupation of France. In the 1950s, the new store opened a few steps from the Seine and just around the corner from the Notre Dame. Upon it's opening in the 1950s, the store quickly become the focal point of bohemian literary culture in Paris.
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PARIS SIGHTS

The Seine
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Printemps Department Store
A 150 year old department store.
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Crazy Paris traffic
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Paris fashion
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Boulevard Garibaldi in full bloom
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Love Locks
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Galignani: The first English bookshop on the continent
The literary Galignani family were among the first to use the new printing press in 1520 to publish books. In the 17th century, their descendant Antionio Galignani moved to London from Venice. Shortly after he moved to Paris where opened the first English bookshop on the European continent in 1801.
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Moulin Rouge
In Montmarte, the bohemian and arty side of Paris, is the Moulin Rouge. It is best know as the birthplace of the can-can. Just like in the movie Moulin Rouge (2001), the garden had a giant elephant and the character, Zidler, really was the founder. The original building from 1889 burnt down in 1915, but the current building is also painted in the iconic red with the windmill. Today, the Moulin Rouge is no longer a playroom for the rich and their courtesans, but is a high-end cabaret theatre.
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Au Revoir, Paris!

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Posted by Anja Fourie 04:10 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (1)

Milan, the fashion capital of Italia

"Frankly, Milan kind of sucks as a restaurant city. It's so fashion-obsessed that people don't pay that much attention to the food." ~ Joe Bastianich

overcast 15 °C
View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Where did we stay? Ibis Ca'Granda

Duomo di Milan

At the heart of Milan, is it's beautiful cathedral. The square and area surrounding the cathedral is thought to have been the most important forum in Roman times. In Milan's case, all roads lead to the Cathedral, as all of Milan's streets either radiate from the cathedral or circle it.

The first buildings of the cathedral were built in 1386 and took 6 centuries to complete, only seeing completion in 1965. It is the largest church in Italy, with the largest church in the world being St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City.

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Climb the steps of Milan's cathedral and walk around on the roof to view some of the amazing spires and sculptures on the roof.

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La Scala Opera House

The world famous home of great Italian composers such as Verdi and Puccini. Scala means 'Staircase' in Italian and was named after the church, Santa Maria della Scala (Holy Mary of the Staircase), on which it is built. The peculiar name of this church comes from a mother who placed a statue of the Virgin Mary on her staircase, which she then believed cured her child from illness.

The opera house was opened in 1778 with an opera by Salieri, Mozart's rival. The opera house was closed from 2001 - 2004 to undergo major renovations. It was opened again in 2004 with the same Salieri work as in 1778.

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Fashion, fashion, fashion

In the 1980s, Milan became one of the biggest fashion capitals of the world, alongside cities such as New York and Paris, due to the success of Milanese fashion houses such as Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. In total a whole month a year is dedicated to fashion events such as the Milan Fashion Week. Famous houses such as Valentino, Gucci, Versace, Prada, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana are all headquartered in Milan.

Right off the cathedral square, you will find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, completed in 1877, and one of the world's oldest shopping malls. The area principally contains luxury shops. In 2012, the McDonalds store in the mall, was denied renewal of their lease after 20 years and replaced with a Prada store. The amazing glass dome of the mall takes inspiration from the domes of cathedrals.

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Posted by Anja Fourie 02:02 Archived in Italy Tagged italy cathedral milan dolce gabbana versace la_scala Comments (0)

Lake Como

'Lake Como has always been a magnet for the elite." ~ Janine di Giovanni

sunny 17 °C
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Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy and has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since the Roman times. Today many famous celebrities have houses at Lake Como including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Helen Mirren and Woody Allen.

There are many towns that surround the massive Lake Como. We stopped at the town of Como, which is situated right at the southern tip of the lake, and about 1 hour from Milan.

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COMO CATHEDRAL

The cathedral is commonly described as one of the last Gothic cathedrals built in Italy. The construction on the cathedral was started in 1396, but was not finished until 1770.
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BRUNATE

Overlooking Como, is the little village of Brunate. It has a population of about 1800. From Como you can take the Como-Brunate funicular. The track is about 1km long and goes straight up the mountain side. It takes 7 minutes to reach the top. At the top you can see as far as the alps in Switzerland.

The route of the funicular up the mountain
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The view from Brunate
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Next stop: Milan

Posted by Anja Fourie 13:17 Archived in Italy Tagged italy cathedral como funicular lake_como brunate Comments (0)

La Spezia, The Bay of Poets

“Italia! Oh Italia! Thou who hast the fatal gift of Beauty." ~ Lord Byron's tribute to the Bay of Poets

sunny 15 °C
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Where did we stay? Hotel Firenze e Continentale

La Spezia is a quiet harbour town. La Spezia is the departure point for the Cinque Terre, but also has many little coffee shops, restaurants and interesting areas to explore. Many cruise ships stop at La Spezia to allow guests to visit Pisa and Florence, who are both easily accessibly by train from La Spezia. Many would choose to give this port city a skip, as it is so close to so much more grander history, but the city is quaint in its own way.

We spent the day exploring the city by foot, relaxing in coffee shops and breathing in the fresh ocean breeze.

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Market and beautiful food items in La Spezia
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The La Spezia government has installed free lifts in the city, as it can be quite hilly. Take the lifts for a view of the city.

The lifts of La Spezia
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Breathing in the fresh ocean air at the port
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Next stop: Lake Como

Posted by Anja Fourie 07:38 Archived in Italy Tagged harbour italy port tuscany la_spezia Comments (0)

Pisa

"I've been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's a tower, and it's leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich." ~ Danny deVito

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View Italy and Paris April 2015 on Anja Fourie's travel map.

Read about my previous visit to Pisa here: Florence and Pisa in one day..

If you have limited time in Pisa, the only place you need to head to is the Piazza dei Mirocoli, the Field of Miracles. In 1987, the whole square was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As with many cities in Italy, their famous sights dominate their skylines. With Pisa it is no different, as you already spot the cathedral and that famous tower when you enter Pisa. The town of Pisa only has a population of 90 000 people, but attracts over 1 million visitors every year thanks to the famous leaning tower.

While crossing the bridge into Pisa, the Field of Miracles can be seen in the distance
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This piazza is recognised as one of the finest architectural complexes in Europe and is a centre of Renaissance art. The complex hosts the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry and the Old Cemetery.

The Baptistry - the largest baptistry in Italy at 54.86m high
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The Pisa Campanile (Bell Tower) - commonly known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, currently leaning at 4 degrees.
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The Pisa Cathedral - the heart of the Piazza dei Mirocoli
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Beautiful aerial shot of the Field of Miracles.
Credit to: Mark the Gr8
From top to bottom it is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the cathedral and then the baptistry with is dome.
To the left of the field is the white rectangular building called the Composanto Monumentale, the old cemetery. It holds a shipload of sacred soil from the Crusades. This is also where the name of the piazza, Holy Field, originates from.
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Next stop: La Spezia

Posted by Anja Fourie 07:33 Archived in Italy Tagged italy pisa field_of_miracles Comments (0)

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