Saturday, 30 September 2017

When in Paris ... Again!

We previously visited Paris in December last year. Beautiful, sunny weather, but a bit chilly! So when we had an unexpected opportunity to visit again this year, we chose late September which, coincidentally, is my birthday!

Like last year, we made a list of the places we wanted to visit. I voted for the Musée du Louvre, my husband wanted to see the inside of the Notre-Dame Cathedral (we only saw the outside last time). For something quirky, we picked the Conciergerie - a former royal palace, later a prison during the French Revolution. And decided to follow that up with a walk through the Tuileries Garden, and on through into Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées.

Arc de Triomphe

Musée du Louvre

I could probably have spent all day in the Louvre. Unfortunately, we didn't have all day so we headed for the Denon Wing, mainly to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. And a glimpse it turned out to be, for the world's most famous painting is hidden behind bullet proof glass and a barrier to prevent anyone getting too close. So if you do want to 'see' the Mona Lisa, be aware that it will be mostly so you can say you've 'seen' it - from a distance!

The Mona Lisa!

We had to queue outside the glass pyramid to get through security but, once inside, the Louvre is so vast we were able to pick up a floor plan (essential!) and pay for our tickets using a machine without queuing again. We also had a very nice lunch in the mostly deserted café. The museum did become busier after lunch though.

Musée du Louvre

Before it was a Renaissance palace, the Louvre was a 12th century fortress, and some of the original foundations can  still be seen in the basement.

The medieval garrison fortress
beneath the Louvre!

Notre-Dame Cathedral

The two things I always remember about the Notre Dame is that it can hold 9,000 people and was one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses (arched exterior supports) after cracks appeared in the walls. It's the quirky stuff that seems to stick in my mind! Also, Napoleon had his coronation here. It's free to get in, but there is a charge to go up the tower or visit the museum.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral

Inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral

Shakespeare and Company

This remains my favourite bookshop (sorry, Waterstones!). I just love the maze of rooms, the atmosphere, and all the lovely books. (I've previously blogged about it here). I've bought rather too many books recently, however, so had to content myself with this pretty notebook instead.


The Conciergerie 

With its turrets and spires, the Conciergerie looks very much like the royal palace it once was, but during the French Revolution it became a prison. It's most famous prisoner was Marie-Antoinette, who spent her last two months here before her execution in 1793. In 1815, her cell was transformed into an expiatory chapel in her honour, complete with altar and three paintings showing scenes from the last few weeks of her life. A number of objects that supposedly belonged to her have also been carefully preserved in glass cabinets.

Chair once used by
Marie-Antoinette - allegedly!

Clothing once worn by
Marie Antoinette - allegedly!

One of the paintings of
Marie Antoinette from
inside the expiatory chapel

Place de la Concorde

After the Conciergerie, it seemed logical to visit the Place de la Concorde - once known as the Place de la Révolution. This was where many victims of the French Revolution died on the guillotine, including King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. It is the largest square in Paris, at one end of the Champs-Élysées.

The obelisk in the centre is known as The Luxor Obelisk, and was originally located at the entrance to Luxor Temple in Egypt (it's twin is still there!). It is 75 ft high and over 3,000 years old, and was gifted to France in 1831 by Muhammad Ali Pasha.

The Luxor Obelisk

There are two monumental fountains in the Place de la Concorde. This one is the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation, and was completed in 1840.

The Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation
Place de la Concorde

Arc de Triomphe

Napoleon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe in 1806 in honour of his 'great army' and his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz - but it took 30 years to finish it. At the base is the tomb of the unknown soldier, and every evening at 6.30 pm a torch is lit in memory of a French soldier who died in battle during WWI. Until we arrived, we didn't realise that it is possible to view Paris from the top of the building. Unfortunately it was growing dark and, while Paris is beautiful by night, we thought we'd wait until our next visit (hopefully!) to see this fabulous city by daylight!

Arc de Triomphe


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden

If you follow me on social media, you'll know that in addition to old houses and castles I also love book shops and libraries. Last week I finally got around to visiting somewhere I'd always wanted to go, Gladstone's Library in Hawarden, with two of my friends from Novelistas Ink: Valerie-Anne Baglietto and Sophie Claire.

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden

It's a beautiful old building, built in 1906 to replace the original one, and is Grade 1 listed. We arranged our trip on the pretext of calling it a business meeting but although there was lots of talking, and much coffee and cake consumed in the cafe, there wasn't a lot of 'business' discussion!

A statue of Gladstone in the grounds

I'm sorry that my photos are a little bit blurry. The library is a place of work and understandably expects visitors to maintain complete silence. I became a little self-conscious about using my camera, which emits a cheerful electronic trill every time I take a picture, so I switched to using my mobile instead!

The Reading Rooms

Gladstone's Library is named after William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), who served four terms as Prime Minster - more than any other person. He was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, finally retiring at the age of 84. He had a large personal library and was keen to make it accessible to others not so fortunate, donating over 32,000 of his own books - mainly theology and history.

The Reading Rooms

Legend has it that he carried the books between the family home at Hawarden Castle and the library himself, with only the aid of a wheelbarrow, his valet and one of his daughters.

Some of Gladstone's personal possessions

The library is now home to more than 150,000 books, journals and pamphlets. Some are over 400 years old, some are first editions. Some still contain Gladstone's personal notes written in the margins!

The library is also a residential library and has 26 bedrooms available for anyone wanting to 'sleep' with the books! Anyone can visit but only residents and 'readers' can use the library (it is free to join). But there are short tours lasting about ten minutes, known as 'Glimpses', three times a day. The library also hosts various programmes and events, including their annual festival, Gladfest. There is a cafe, Food For Thought, open seven days a week, and conference rooms available for hire.

I think I feel another Novelistas' 'business meeting' coming on ...

Left to Right: Valerie-Anne Baglietto
Louise Marley and Sophie Claire
(in the cafe!)


Photo Credits:

All photos were taken by me, except the group shot © Sophie Claire.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Italian Blog (or, what I did on my holidays...)

You may have noticed I've been a little bit quiet. This is because I've spent the past week in Venice! I did go with my usual intention of keeping up with emails, social media and the rest. I even packed my work-in-progress - but was hampered by packing four chargers and not a single adapter. #EpicFail. And you know how I love my Kindle! As it turned out, we were too busy sight-seeing to miss our phones and Kindles.

Basilica di San Marco
We got lost three times on the first day, and twice on the second day - and then we lost our map. But we soon realised this was the best way to 'discover' the real Venice, and we stumbled upon several fabulous churches (containing the most incredible art), along with museums, exhibitions and palaces. So we spent the rest of the holiday happily getting lost!

Lots of shopping!
We had a lovely hotel just two minutes walk from St Mark's Square. It meant we could get up early and explore the city before it grew too busy.

The Grand Canal
 I didn't fancy a ride in a gondola but a water taxi was provided as part of our transfer to and from the hotel, and that was fun - although every time we went under one of those little Venetian bridges I was reminded of the video for Madonna's Like a Virgin and instinctively ducked. 

The tickets to get into these places
were works of art in themselves!

The Basilica di San Marco

My favourite place was the Basilica di San Marco, because of the fabulous gold mosaic ceilings. The original basilica was built to house the relics (bones!) of St Mark the Evangelist - stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants with the help of two Greek monks (there's definitely a story there!). The mosaic over the entrance shows St Mark being welcomed to the city. The present building dates from about 1093 but has been greatly embellished and those gold mosaic ceilings cover an area of more than 43,000 feet.

Front Entrance
The Basilica is free to enter (hence the huge queues; once inside, you shuffle around in one long crocodile) but you can access various extras such as the museum, the treasury and the Pala d'Oro for a few Euros.  Entry to the museum also gains you entry to the gallery, where you can see the ceiling at close range, the famous bronze horses (the ones outside are replicas), as well as the outside balcony with views of St Mark's Square.

Palazzo Ducale

The Palace was the residence of the Doge - a kind of chief magistrate. The Doge's Palace was in the most part constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries, and some of the greatest painters of the 16th century were responsible for the beautiful ceilings that show scenes from Venetian history.

The Doge's Palace is on the left
(photo taken from the Basilica balcony)
The Doge's crowning took place at the Scala dei Giganti (The Giant's Stairway), so called because of the huge statues of Mars and Neptune at the top - symbolising the power of Venice over land and sea.

Scala dei Giganti
(The Giant's Stairway)
Fabulous ceilings -
you'll spend a lot of time looking up!

The Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs was built in 1600 to connect the prison with the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace with two parallel corridors. While beautiful on the outside, it is fairly grim on the inside! The most famous resident of the prison was Giacomo Casanova, who managed to escape through the roof, re-enter the Palace and then walk out through the porta della carta (the entrance to the court). The bridge was given its name due to the story that prisoners would sigh as they crossed from the palace to the prison and caught sight of the outside world through the windows.

The Bridge of Sighs
Not so pretty on the inside!

The Campanile di San Marco

If you get the chance, you must view Venice from the top of this famous bell tower. Although originally built in the 10th century, it suddenly collapsed in on itself in 1902. It has since been rebuilt using as much of the original stone as possible. The queue is relatively short compared with other sites, there is a lift to the top and you can see the whole of Venice stretched out beneath you.

The Campanile di San Marco
(The Bell Tower of St Mark)
The bells, the bells!
View from the top

Teatro La Fenice di Venice

We stumbled upon this theatre by accident. We couldn't arrange to see a performance, as there weren't any during our visit, but for a few euros you can pay to tour the interior, which is pretty spectacular - as you can see from the photo below. The original building (which burned to the ground in 1996) was founded in 1792 and staged a number of world premieres, including operas by Rossini and Bellini. Maria Callas debuted here in 1947 and there are several souvenirs from her performances on display.

Teatro La Fenice di Venice
(The Phoenix Theatre of Venice)
Ca' d'Oro

This is one of the palaces on the Grand Canal. The name means 'golden house', because it was once decorated with gold leaf. It's currently home to Baron Franchelli's art collection. There were lots of famous paintings (van Dyck, Bellini, Titian, etc) but they all went over my head a bit. Because I love old buildings, it was the palace itself which fascinated me!

Ca' d'Oro
(Photo taken from the Grand Canal)
The interior courtyard
Amazing tiled floors
Santa Maria della Salute

This minor basilica is on the other side of the Grand Canal, almost opposite St Mark's Square. It was built in 1630 to give thanks for deliverance from an outbreak of the Black Death in 1603. Most of the objects of art within the church reference the plague. It's an iconic part of the Venetian skyline and has been painted by many artists, including Turner and Canaletto.

Santa Maria della Salute
Iconic view!
Santa Maria della Salute


Related Posts:

A Writer's Holiday - in which I visit Tuscany, Florence and Luca
When in Paris ... 

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