Wednesday, 7 December 2016


We have just been away for a few days escaping the hurly burly that is Christmas

to a hotel that holds a special affection for us, and is just a short coastal headland walk to St. Ives 
Alternatively you can take a little train that trundles along below the footpath every hour to
St. Ives
Silvanus Trevail was the architect of The Carbis Bay Hotel built in 1894. He was a prominent Cornish architect who rose to become Mayor of Truro and nationally, President of the architects' professional body, the Society of Architects.
The hotel was immortalised by the author Rosamunde Pilcher when it was featured as The Sands Hotel in her novels 'The Shell Seekers' and 'Winter Solstice'.
Although the hotel has changed over the years it still retains much of its character and houses a wonderful very large original oil painting by Sir Claude Francis Barry - as a young painter he studied first with the Newlyn School of realist painters and then under Alfred Bast with the St. Ives group of painters 
St. Ives - painted in 1910 - Claude Francis Barry
He was known for his great love of colour and for developing his style continuously during his lifetime
We left home in typically December weather only to discover warmer, sunnier climes had blown in to Cornwall from the continent. It is this special light that attracted the colonies of famous painters to Newlyn and St.Ives at the end of the c19th.

The late afternoon sun is slipping away rapidly - time to hasten back over the headland for our eagerly anticipated evening meal
 This is not an advert or recommendation for the hotel, it is simply a place that we know and love
 A Christmas thought
Why have we allowed ourselves to be manipulated into thinking that Christmas needs weeks of preparation and shopping?
When I was small Christmas arrived hardly more than a week before the event. On the morning of Christmas Eve our turkey would be delivered from the farm along with a box of fruit and vegetables, and father would go out into the garden with his spade and dig up our Christmas tree. Myself and siblings would spend the afternoon decorating the tree, and then just before we climbed the stairs to bed, the lights would be ceremoniously switched on, filling us all with great excitement and anticipation.

Friday, 2 December 2016

La Défense

 via wiki
Looking from the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs-Elysées in a westerly direction La Grande Arche de la Défense is clearly visible from the city 
The Grande Arche and esplanade stand at the heart of La Défense which is Europe's largest built business district filled with acres of glass and steel buildings.

Charles de Gaulle was responsible for leading an effort to level this area and concentrate skyscrappers in a single district rather than altering the character of downtown Paris by filling it with large commercial properties.

Each of the buildings tells a story about the architectural trends that were in vogue at the time of their construction. La Défense now gives us an interesting overview of this most recent period in our history of architecture

La Défense is considered a good and very much cheaper option for a place to stay in Paris. It has wonderful views across Paris which are particularly dramatic at night - there are lots of very good quality restaurants selling food from around the globe - a huge shopping mall - cinema - museum - church; it also has excellent quick train links that will whisk you straight into the city center, easily take you out to the interesting suburbs of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, or even take you for a day out to Versailles

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Passages couverts à Paris

Visited La Fayette to view their Christmas Tree suspended from the shops magnificent central glass dome. The glass was done by master stained glass designer Jacques Gruber at the turn of the C20th in a Neo-byzantine style, but our ultimate destination was to visit some Paris Passages.
A distant glimpse of Sacré Coeur on our way to the first arcade
Passage des Princes
There are around 20 unique and charming covered passageways in Paris mostly built between the turn of the C18th and the mid C19th. Were these arcades an early precursor to the shopping malls we know today? They were created by linking some of the grand boulevard buildings with a covered glass walkway, and have typically Belle Epoque Parisian architectural features - each passage hosting it's own unique character. Some have very upmarket boutiques and food shops selling delicious patisseries; others are filled with interesting ethnic shops and restaurants. There are beautiful antique and jewellery shops, and even shops filled with all kinds of things that you didn't realise you wanted until you peered into their enticing windows.
Passage Jouffroy kept us busy for at least two hours. It houses Musée Grévin with its famous waxwork models, the Hôtel Chopin - an original and reasonably priced place to spend the night, and lots of very quirky shops

Gourmets can enjoy eating in the unmissable tea rooms of Valentin, but we found a memorable Thai restaurant which served us all a beautifully presented and delicious lunch.

 In the elegant passageway Galerie Vivienne we came across a bridal couple dancing 
Special thanks to our lovely DiL for taking us to the passageways and sharing her knowledge, and a big thank you to our eldest son for treating us to a memorable meal

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Subterranean Paris

Underground Paris resembles a Swiss cheese with hundreds of kilometers of tunnels built during Roman times lying far below the elegant Parisian boulevards and metro.
However, only a small section is actually accessible to the general public.

That is, apart from a faceless, covert, underworld group of people, known as "Cataphiles". They enter the vast network of tunnels that criss cross the city illegally by way of secret entrances. It is estimated that at least 300 Cataphiles visit this dark labyrinth every week crawling along the narrow, low passageways, dropping down or climbing up through small holes to different levels, and often encountering unexpected obstacles and hazards such as rock falls, flooding, and large pools of water. I can only assume that the dangers experienced in this dark, mysterious, unmapped, underground world excites them and is accompanied by an extreme adrenaline rush. 
The descent for the paying public is via a stone spiral stairway of 130 steps; including exploring the passages the whole visit lasts approximately one hour. I should say that it is not a good idea to go if you have any anxieties about being underground or find descending or ascending steps for a long distance difficult.
Between street level and the area where the Catacombs are located, the visitor travels back in geological time for nearly 45 million years. Descending through a succession of rock layers before reaching a limestone bank from the Lutetian period. The Roman name for Paris was Lutetia, and the limestone cut from that stage provides very high quality cut stone commonly referred to as "pierre de Paris" - Parisian stone. Notre Dame, The Louvre, and  most of Paris's principal buildings were built from this stone.
 This shell was more than one metre in length
Entrance to the Catacombs - "Stop, this is death's empire!"
 Thus begins the pathway that leads through the remains of more than six million Parisians.  

Overflowing cemeteries were a huge problem for 18th century Paris. Those living in the neighbourhood of Les Halles near Les Innocents, the city's oldest and largest cemetery, were amongst the first to complain. They reported that the cemetery exuded a strong smell of decomposing flesh. 
In 1763, Louis XV issued an edict banning all burials from occurring inside the capital. At that time the church was very powerful and chose to ignore the ruling as it did not want it's cemeteries disturbed or moved. However, in 1780 a prolonged period of spring rains caused walls around Les Innocents to collapse, spilling rotting corpses into the surrounding neighbourhood, this episode finally resulted in the removal of millions of bones from various city cemeteries into the quarry. The task took 12 years to complete with some of the oldest bones dating back more than 1,200 years.
The Inspector General of the Quarries, Héricart de Thury was responsible for developing the Ossuary. The long bones and skulls were arranged decoratively to form a back wall behind which other bones were piled. He also created signage indicating from which Parisian cemetery the bones originated.
The Catacombs became a great curiosity for the more privileged Parisians - the first known visitor of note was the Count of Artois, later France's King Charles X. 

Public visits began during the beginning of the early 19th century but infrequently. As a result of the wave of increasing curiosity that attracted a growing number of visitors the government decided to allow monthly visits. Today the Catacombs are open every day apart from Mondays and some Public holidays throughout the year.
Crypt of the Passion: The Barrel
At midnight on the 2nd April 1897, a two hour clandestine concert was held around The Barrel attended by 100 members of Parisian "high society"  which featured Chopin's Funeral March, La Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, and Marche Funèbre from Beethoven's Eroica.