29 August 2012

It starts with a P

I can barely look at the pictures. Maybe you've been there, maybe you haven't, but you've seen all the pictures that I took of Paris. At some point, in some book, or on TV, or in a movie, you've seen them. So I hope you'll all survive the tourism onslaught that starts in the next post.

This one isn't too bad though. We left Le Havre on the morning of whatever public holiday it was and made our way to Paris. Our first stop was somewhat outside of the city though. We visited some Japan-time friends and they treated us to a lunch of all the vegetables—quite welcome considering how easily a travel diet seems to lack in greenery. We even left with a vegetable from their garden. I've got the pumpkin down to about a quarter now.

Late afternoon we drove into the city and to our hostel, dubbing the traffic circle nearest to it "the circle of death" on our way. But we made it in one piece, and were only too happy to exchange our car for the Metro from then until our departure date.

We found the Notre Dame at last light, and then we located Galerie 88, a restaurant that our friends had recommened. Note to self: split peas and cumin soup. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

P.S. Why do children grow up so quickly?

28 August 2012

The great day out: Caen, Bayeux, Mont Saint-Michel

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There's a William the Conqueror theme to our great day out. Firstly, he built Château de Caen, the contemporary view of which can be seen above.

We had our French supermarket breakfast on its ramparts before strolling around the complex and checking out what the Museum of Normandy had to offer. The special exhibition on lace-making was fascinating, and the permanent exhibition—ranging from archaeological artefacts to folk dress and practices—was also interesting.

Next, we made our way to Bayeux to experience that telling of the Norman conquest of England and the Battle of Hastings. Spoiler alert: William conquers.

It's a good thing we had to wait in line quite a while. An animation made with the elements of the tapestry was playing on some TVs, and our friend could translate the information that appeared as French text. Much easier than fighting with the audio guide while you're sausaging through the tapestry passage with however many other people—also fruitlessly trying to beat the audio guides at their own game.

En route to Mont Saint-Michel (also depicted in the tapestry and thus completing our William trio), we stopped at a little middle-of-nowhere petrol station to fill up. We were also desperate to reattack our supermarket supplies, reinforced by some Bayeux bakery supplies. The most scenic place to do this was on a little patch of lawn, next to a middle-of-nowhere supermarket that flanks the middle-of-nowhere petrol station. At least our odd choice of picnic spot gave a French guy who walked by a good chuckle, so mission accomplished.

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Mont Saint-Michel is also fun to view from above, as you can see. It's a really interesting abbey to visit, if you can manage to ignore all the other tourists who are ignoring polite suggestions like "this is a quiet place".

A lot of complex engineering work is taking place and will be happening for the next few years. The road leading to the island will be reconstructed, along with other measures to rehabilitate the landscape and the water flow.

We had a long way home only interrupted by rest stops, including one for dinner when the by then very ripe camembert came out of the car for the last time.

26 August 2012

Good morning, Le Havre

Morning in Le Havre was actually not all that great. The seagulls, oh the noisy, noisy bastards.

Anyway, our first visit of the day was to St. Joseph's Church, designed by August Perret, chief architect for the reconstruction of Le Havre after the World War II bombings. It was... interesting, very modern, if a tad too much like entering a giant parking lot.

After the church we walked up to the Hanging Gardens, situated inside what used to be the Fort of Sainte-Adresse. We enjoyed some views from the ramparts and walked around the gardens and greenhouses. Even if you have no interest in all the greenery, I recommend going there to EAT. The charming teahouse is more evidence of the French knowing everything about toast. Even if we savages seemingly know nothing of French culinary practice. My friend ordered a cheese plate and the waitress asked if we'd like it with or after the meal. "Could we have it as an entrée?" "Suuu-re, if you like." The waitress went to the back to communicate with the kitchen. "...and a cheese plate... as an entrée." — "What!?"

After our backwards eating, we exited through the rose gardens and made our way to a cliff overlooking the English Channel. Next we walked back down to the city and—surprise, surprise—learnt some things on the beachfront.

The somewhat dreary weather called for a bit of hotel-time recharging. Back on the streets before dinner, we passed by some more landmarks. The Volcano struck us as a bit odd.

For dinner we ate more mussels than should be allowed. But the full-for-days feeling was good, because the next day we went for more of an all-day-picnic vibe. More about that next time.

25 August 2012

To Le Havre

After lunch we left Reims behind to make our way to Le Havre, with a brief stop in Amiens en route.

Le Havre is situated at the mouth of the river Seine and is the second busiest French port. The city is very modern, because... (go-go Wikipedia):

While under German occupation, the city was devastated in 1944 during the Battle of Normandy in World War II; 5,000 people were killed and 12,000 homes destroyed, mainly by Allied air attacks. After the war, the centre was rebuilt in the modernist style by Auguste Perret.

I'll show a specific piece of Perret's work in the next post. For now, check out this visual guide to the devastation and rebuilding.

For dinner we headed down to the beachfront. On the way we learnt about the major ports of countries that are big players in shipping. As you'll see again in later posts, Le Havre is all about teaching you interesting things while you're on your way somewhere.

Being by the water, we opted for seafood. The proprietor of the place was a funny guy. My friend was our speaker for the journey, dusting off her French after four years of living and breathing Japanese. He asked a few things about us, corrected her French twice, then crowned it all with, "Your French is quite good... for an American."

Morning in Reims

For our morning in Reims we headed to the Palace of Tau.

From Wikipedia:

The Palace was the residence of the Kings of France before their coronation in Notre-Dame de Reims. The King was dressed for the coronation at the palace before proceeding to the cathedral; afterwards, a banquet was held at the palace. The first recorded coronation banquet was held at the palace in 990, and the most recent in 1825.

The palace has housed the Musée de l'Œuvre since 1972, displaying statuary and tapestries from the cathedral, together with reliquaries and other objects associated with the coronation of the French kings.

So that's basically what we saw and learnt about. I especially liked the tapestries. After our visit we got some delicious eats from PAUL. Man, I could go for a aubergine and zucchini mini-quiche again right about now. Anyway, after lunch we were back on the road. More about that next time.

24 August 2012

To Reims

Saturday the eleventh, we set off for France. Unfortunately not by gilded wings, but by rented Ford Fiesta—thanks anyway little car, you did well. Our first stop was in Strasbourg, clearly border territory if you go by the name.

Our destination for the evening was Reims: the beginning of obscure-pronunciation territory. After we'd checked in, we took a walk around the old city. The cathedral was lovely in the afternoon light. Lovely as all the cathedrals on the trip were though, I think I'm reaching a saturation point. In Japan you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a temple, so I mostly went for "this one is the oldest", "this one is the biggest", "this one has a nice garden", because otherwise you'd spend your whole life inside temples. Cathedral-visiting limitations may have to be applied for Europe eventually.

What I assume is a main street of some sort was buzzing when we went looking for some dinner. The first of at least two occasions I can recall right now where the French proved they know everything about making a slice of toast excellent.

More Reims tomorrow.

23 August 2012

Of shapes and things

So we're back from France. Spot the visual clue.

But this is actually less about the Eiffel Tower, and more about how I discovered Norman Brosterman's Kindergarten Collection via a Pattern Pulp post. With other collections like Propaganda Kimono, all I can say is: wow. After seeing the Kaleidograph Toy I had to put an order in at Present & Correct. Warning: do not browse if you love stationery—it's wallet-threatening. Anyway, I can't wait for it to arrive. It can play with the miniature baufix blocks I found at Flohmarkthaus (miniature because we had ones just like these, only larger) and my 100のかたち book. They'll be best friends.

More about France a bit later.

10 August 2012

Hotel Germany

More sightseeing with a current visitor! Little by little I discover more about our area too. I've been inside the Stiftskirche in Herrenberg twice recently. I also finally made time to visit the Stuttgart City Library. Epic. Epically hospital-like on the entry level. But then the whole white cube thing really comes together nicely when it's filled with books. Can't wait to go there again to touch all the paper.

Tomorrow: France!

05 August 2012

Summer days and evenings

Between all the Olympics-watching we also got out a bit, not least because a friend dropped in for a visit.

First in the set below is a gorgeous summer evening cycle to and from a soccer match. Then, a morning visit to Herrenberg, and then an evening in Sindelfingen at the Schlemmerfest. The represented restaurants had all sorts of fancy stuff to offer at their stalls, but we went for some tasty burgers.

Around the -ingens

Some random news from the last weeks.

I spent a day in Tübingen, just because. We dropped by the Böblingen Africa festival, the best cultural exchange taking place being the braiding of kids' hair. And since we're back in that good old summer time when day passes are valid for two days, we took a train ride and decided to see what's up in Esslingen on a Sunday afternoon.