Merci.

An afternoon stroll down Boulevard Beaumarchais led to the discovery of Merci general store that literally, generally sells everything. We sat outside their  used books cafe (seeing as they sell everything)  and sipped on hot cocoa before browsing their shelves.

hot cocoa and green tea bites

hot cocoa and green tea bites

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books for days

books for days

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Merci is located at 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, nearest Metro stops Filles du Calvaire and Saint Sebastien Froissart. Close by is the Rue de Vieille du Temple and the region of Le Marais for shopping and dining.

Merci.

 

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Visiting the Sun King at Versailles

Versailles, beautiful yet tragic. A spectacular achievement in French architecture that would only see three generations of the French royal family inhabiting its walls. The Chateau  de Versailles was begun by eccentric Louis XIV, who moved the court from Paris to Versailles in the seventeenth century. The site of the palace was originally a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII, over the next century Versailles would be expanded upon and transformed into an exquisite pleasure palace from which the descendants of Louis XIV would continue to act out the sacred royal rights initiated by the Sun King.

The Sun King

The Sun King

I have been reading about Louis XIV and his descendants over the past couple of years. From the Sun King and his mistresses, to the boy king Louis the Beloved and the unfortunate Louis Capet, I have slowly traced the lives of the family at their royal residence. My particular interest is in Marie Antoinette’s life at court and her constant battle to legitimize herself as a Bourbon queen (she was a direct descendant of Louis XIV’s brother Phillipe Duc d’Orleans).

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In visiting Versailles, I feel that I was able to retrace her steps by physically walking the grounds that she inhabited. From the tight routines and restrictions of the palace to the seclusion in her later days at the Petit Trianon and Queen’s Hamlet. Versailles is full of tourists all year round. Upon entering the main palace, along with hundreds of tourists, I felt what is probably a similar claustrophobia to Marie Antoinette’s whilst at court. Louis XIV had turned Versailles into an open air royal museum, members of the court would observe and participate in the French royal family’s daily routines including the waking up to the preparation of the evening coucher of the king and queen. There would have been little time for Marie Antoinette to spend on her own or with her close friends due to etiquette. My own walk through the palace was led by a populous group of tourists, mostly Asian with expensive cameras and heavy duty lenses. The blinding flash and constant sound of the camera shutters distorted the elaborate Baroque wallpaper and mouldings. Here I was taking part in an age old royal routine.

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

By the time we’d passed the King’s chambers and the hall of mirrors I felt completely exhausted and lacked inspiration to record my experience (plus the constant flash of cameras had given me a migraine by this point).

Portrait of the Artist (and friend)

Portrait of the Artist (and friend)

Eventually I was pushed along to the queen’s chambers, the last queen to have used the apartments being Marie Antoinette. It was as I had imagined. Across the walls I could see the stylistic evolution and contribution of the queens who had inhabited the space. Having been packed into the room with slightly aggressive tourists, I could imagine the suffocation Marie Antoinette felt when she gave birth to her first child Marie Therese, the queen had fainted soon after. Such an experience must have further encouraged her to step away from court life.

The Queen's Chambers

The Queen’s Chambers

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I wish I had been more patient to really explore the palace but I just didn’t feel like myself whilst I was there. As we slowly moved towards the exit I began to relax. And so a feeling of tranquility took over the anxiety as I walked through the gardens. The labyrinth of green muffled the sounds of visitors and kept them away from sight. Instead I was greeted with Classical Baroque music pumping out from speakers hidden in the bushes. This gave a rather grand effect to the feel of the space though I would much rather have experienced it as it was, without the aid of modern technology (the speakers).

The Gardens

The Gardens

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I can see why Marie Antoinette chose the Petit Trianon as her get away from court life. The little chateau is a 20 minute walk away from the main palace, it is hidden away in a green corner surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Louis VXI gave the chateau to Marie Antoinette on her 19th birthday. It had originally belonged to Louis XV mistress Madame Pompadour and after her death it was given to his final mistress Madame Du Barry. In this way Marie Antoinette appears to have taken the role not of Louis XVI’s consort but of his mistress, they were yet to produce an heir to the throne. The lack of a Dauphin and the decision to seclude herself from court would eventually lead to rumors and the negative perception of the queen of France by the public.

It appears that the Petit Trianon is somewhat unheard of or less popular with the tourists. I was delighted to find peace and tranquility at the chateau Marie Antoinette called her own.

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

My most memorable experience at Versailles would have to be discovering the Temple of Love. This to me was the epitome of Marie Antoinette’s shift to embracing nature through the creation of an English garden and the temple at Versailles. Louis XVI is known to have heavily invested in improving the gardens. The carefully planned out landscape appears to imitate nature. The temple was created by the queen’s architect Richard Mique. An exquisite example of the Neo-Classical style that was slowly replacing Baroque architecture at Versailles.

Temple of Love

Temple of Love

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 Next we made our way to the Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette’s rustic hideaway, a place that she would increasingly spend more time in, especially with her children. Here the queen commissioned rustic buildings in the guise of Norman and Flemish country houses. She would take her friends and family to relax in the gardens, visit the dairy, the mill and even to a little farm with goats, pigs and chickens. This was at a time when Marie Antoinette became interested in the ‘back to nature’ philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his is also the philosophy that would greatly influence the French revolution.

Hameau de la Reine

Hameau de la Reine

fresh vegetables - tomatoes being grown to this day

fresh vegetables – tomatoes being grown to this day

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Lastly we walked around the grounds of the Grand Trianon, the family’s retreat. Just as the Petit Trianon, this palace was a place in which the king and queen (or mistress) could relax away from court etiquette. Royal guests residing temporarily at the Grand Trianon included the Grand Dauphin, son of Louis XIV, the Duchess de Burgundy, Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, her son Philippe d’Orleans, Peter the Great of Russia and Napoleon.

The Grand Trianon

The Grand Trianon

stairs that lead to...

stairs that lead to…

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As I waved goodbye to Versailles, vowing to return again soon, I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that at one point Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette also waved goodbye to the only home they had ever known. I reflected on the hectic claustrophobia I felt at the main palace and how this was washed away at the peaceful Trianons, as it would have been when the grounds were inhabited by the royal family. The  main palace is worth seeing the first time round though I shall definitely be avoiding it like the plague on my next visit. I would like to see the changing faces of Versailles from  Autumn through to Spring, Summer and Winter.

The palace is easily reached from Paris if you would care to take a visit. I took the Line C from St. Michel in the direction of Versailles-Chateau. You can also take the Line C from Musee d’Orsay, Invalides, Pont de l’Alma and Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel. I would suggest arriving at the palace early in the morning, half an hour prior to opening times as I can guarantee queues will already be forming. If you do arrive later, be prepared for a one hour to one hour and a half waiting time. Once you are in the ticketing building, speed up the ticket purchase time by buying your tickets from one of the machines instead of waiting to be served at the desk.  Free admission for under 25’s and History of Art and Architecture students. Enjoy!

 

My Favorite Paris – Montmartre

My preference for arrondissements has changed over the years. From historical centre 1st, to spreading out slightly to the 2nd, trendy 4th over to Latin Quarter 5th, back to 3rd, pass by 11th, touristic 7th to the canal in the 10th… but the 18th shall always hold a special place in my heart.

Montmartre lies perfectly at the tip of the 18th. Though a popular tourist attraction, the crowds of tourist with flashy cameras can easily be avoided if you know how…

The Sacre Coeur is one of my all time favorite displays of magnificent French architecture. I always pay homage to it on my visits to Paris. It sits peacefully and elegantly on top of the hill. One place I do avoid (at all costs) is the Place de Tetre behind the church, which is heavily populated by tourist and souvenir shops.

Sunny Day at Montmartre

Sunny Day at Montmartre

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Eating out in Montmartre can either be expensive or disappointing if you end up in a tourist trap. One lesson I’ve learnt is never to order a crepe from a place that has a pile of precooked crepes on the side waiting to be filled. The French are famous for their emmental filled crepes though it’s best to look for a place that makes them fresh from the batter on the spot, unfortunately I haven’t yet found a decent creperie in Montmartre. What I have found are fantastic bakers and cheese shops (yes shops that solely sell cheese).

I Heart French Cheese

I Heart French Cheese

Rue des Abbesses and the roads that follow down from it to Pigalle, such as Rue Lepic are my favorites for boulangeries, fromageries, fresh fruit and veg and fresh fish (oyster bar anyone?).

I’ve blogged about it before and I’ll blog about it again. Le Relais Gascon is my favorite restaurant in Paris. I like to convince myself that I’m eating healthy by ordering one of their huge salads. The food is a treat, the wine is decent (and decently priced) and the service is quick, most of all it’s not pretentious and doesn’t try to be “typically French”, it just is. I especially love sitting outside as the view down to Pigalle is great for people watching, even on a rainy day.

"salad" at Le Relais Gascon

“salad” at Le Relais Gascon

I’ve come to realize that the main reason people in Paris dress so well is the availability of inexpensive fashion a la vintage shops. Though not the centre of vintage (which I shall discuss in a later post), Montmartre has it’s fair share of decently priced vintage boutiques (5 Euro boyfriend coats for example…). My friend and I spent well over an hour inside one particular shop that not only sells vintage clothing but shoes, bags, furniture, books… you name it, they sell it.

The shop: Les Billes de la Gamine, the owner: Cecile. Cecile is a connoisseur in all things vintage. She just has to look at you to pick out the perfect item that you will instantly fall in love with. The star buy was my friend’s 30 Euro pair of Doc Martins boots in ivy green. Cecile’s little shop can be found at 66 Rue d’Orsel, at the very tip of Rue des Abbesses.

Vintage Cool at Les Bille de la Gamine

Vintage Cool at Les Bille de la Gamine

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Other great vintage shops that I shall definitely be visiting again include:

Chine Machine

100 Rue des Martyrs

75018, Paris

and Vintage Desir (for those 5 Euro boyfriend coats)

28 Rue Yvonne le Tac

75018, Paris

(sadly they don’t have a website or a Facebook page)

Sunday is flea market day in Montmartre, Rue de Clignancourt boasts stretches of market stalls selling all sorts. I felt absolutely chuffed to have discovered it by chance one day! Nearest Metro stop in Montmartre is Chateau Rouge though it’s a 5 minute walk from the Sacre Coeur. You can also stop at the very tip of the market at Metro stop Porte de Clignancourt where they have the bigger more serious stalls, I believe these are also open on Fridays and Saturdays.

early morning just as the flea market was opening

early morning just as the flea market was opening

Most of all I love Montmartre for it’s slopes and slides, green open spaces and quiet little back streets. The sky always appears bluer in Montmartre, I can only imagine the influence the landscape would have had on the great French Impressionists who populate this area.

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Forward Thinking Copenhagen

Nyhavn - Copenhagen Waterfront

Nyhavn – Copenhagen Waterfront

Considering that I am a big fan of the ‘old’, Copenhagen would not have seemed the obvious travel destination for me. My newly found interest in clean lines and minimalist design has led to a fascination with Scandinavian countries. I thought to start my discovery of all things Scandinavian at the very bottom of the map with Denmark, I hope to work my way up through Sweden and Norway very soon.

The first thing I noticed about Copenhagen is the attention to detail. Design appears to be of importance to the Danish, everything seems to have its place. Design is efficient as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Street Life

Street Life

This is the first picture I took in Copenhagen. It might not look like much but these are typical street lights in the city. I absolutely love the simplicity of the design.

Copenhagen is perfectly balanced between the new and the old. The Latin Quarter at the centre of town is densely populated with tourists.  Historical red brick architecture is finely preserved. Making my way out of the centre to the surrounding districts such as Norreport and Norrebro, I found a very natural transition to 19th and 20th century buildings, very much influenced by those being built in Europe at the same time, such as in Paris and Rome.

 

Streets are perfectly marked with pedestrian walkways, cycle paths and a mostly one way driving system. I was amazed at the dedication of the Danes to cycling around town. Everyone cycles, whether young, old, woman or man, adult or child. It was heartwarming to see parents pushing their children along in carts attached to the front of their bicycles. Everywhere I turned there were bikes parked along the sidewalk, surprisingly most bikes weren’t locked. I felt safe in this city.

On Yer Bike!

On Yer Bike!

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It is extremely easy to walk around Copenhagen. I wouldn’t suggest doing it all in a day though two to three days is more than enough time to enjoy the city. Official, free tourist maps can be picked up anywhere in the city, from train and metro stations to hotels and shops. The map definitely helped me navigate my way around the city.

Norrebro

My favorite part of Copenhagen would have to be Norrebro. Norrebro is to the north of the historical centre, a 10 to 15 minute walk from Norreport metro station. This part of the city is much quieter and residential. Here you can spend some time in the beautiful Assistens Cemetery (Assistens Kirkegaard). It might sound like a bit of a crazy thing to do whilst traveling but this is one of Copenhagen’s largest green spaces and is a popular place for locals to relax and spend time with family and friends. I spotted early birds going for their morning run, fathers pushing their babies along in prams and hip art students sitting on the grass enjoying a glass of wine and a laugh. Famous individuals to have been buried at Assistens Cemetery include Hans Christian Andersen (for all you Little Mermaid fans) and Soren Kierkegaard.

Walking back down to the centre from the cemetery I spotted plenty of fashion boutiques, all of which were very expensive though I vowed that one day I would return in order to pursue my taste for Scandinavian fashion.

One thing that bugged me slightly was the lack of cafes and coffee shops, or just quiet places to enjoy a warm drink in the centre (the Danes seem to have a thing for Joe and the Juice (a terrible chain of cafes that appears to be their equivalent of a ‘hip’ Starbucks if ever there were such a thing…). Norrebro however boasts fine cafes and good coffee.

The best spots to browse through fashion boutiques, vintage shops and to take a coffee pit stop are on super stylish Jaegersborggade (at the very tip of the cemetery), Elmegade (as you walk down from the cemetery on the right) and Blagardsgede (two blocks down from Elmegade on the right).

Coffee at the Laundromat Cafe, Norrebro

Coffee at the Laundromat Cafe, Norrebro

My favorite cafe would have to be the Laundromat Cafe on Elmegade in Norrebro. The coffee is good as was my simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and grilled tomatoes. The staff are super friendly and they have outdoor seating with blankets included, Copenhagen is following on in the style of European outdoor seating.

 

I have found my little hub of pleasure to the north of the busy tourist spots. I shall definitely come back to Copenhagen to dig deeper into the more native spots where locals roam such as Norrebro and Osterbro.

Neo-Classical Glory, The Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen

The church of Our Lady, is the cathedral of Copenhagen and the Denmark national cathedral. It is situated at the centre of the city, next to the university of Copenhagen on Vor Frue Plads. The building that stands today replaces a previous Baroque church which in turn was build in place of a medieval church.

The easiest way to reach the cathedral is by taking the Norregade from Norreport metro station.

Copenhagen Cathedral

Copenhagen Cathedral

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Red Brick Copenhagen

As an art historian, I have developed a passion for European Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The Classical balance, light reflecting, clean facades and Baroque pomp attract me to cities around Italy, Spain and France and even Brazil (Minas Gerais and Bahia). Never before had I experienced Germanic or Scandinavian red brick architecture as I was about to in Copenhagen.

I had done my research prior to visiting the city and the first thing that I noticed was the conservative nature to the architecture in the Latin Quarter (historical centre) of Copenhagen. Red brick combined itself with Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism and Neo Gothic (Grundtvig’s Church in Bispebjerg).

Church of the Holy Ghost

Church of the Holy Ghost, Latin Quarter

Church of the Holy Ghost, Latin Quarter

Hidden amongst the throngs of tourists in the Latin Quarter, sits the beautiful Church of the Holy Ghost (Helligaandskirken).

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The Organ

The Organ

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The Altar

The Altar

Sunshine and Stained Glass

Sunshine and Stained Glass

Saint Peter’s Church

Behind the Copenhagen Cathedral (which I shall mention in another post) on Skt. Peders Straede stands St. Peter’s Church (St. Petri Kirke). This church has seen a number of transformations from its original single nave plan of the 12th century through to the current 15th century plan and its stunning Baroque copper spire. The church is dedicated to the German speaking community in Copenhagen.

Saint Peter's Church

Saint Peter’s Church

 

The organ, clean white lines

The organ, clean white lines

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Copenhagen City Hall

I accidentally bumped into the Copenhagen City Hall whilst on my way to Christianshavn. The magnificent red brick building, built in the National Romantic style made such a sharp contrast to the blue of the sky that I thought it would pierce the depth above me.

Copenhagen City Hall

Copenhagen City Hall

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Borsen

Everyone kept telling me to to go to Christianshavn to see the hippie commune, to hang out surrounded by artists, students and bohemians alike. Though I appreciated Christianshavn, nothing could have hit me quite as hard as the Old Stock Exchange building as I crossed back over Knippelsbro. The Old Stock Exchange (Borsen) looks like something out of an old Fairy Tale. The copper dragon spire is like nothing I have ever seen in my life!

The Old Stock Exchange, Borsen

The Old Stock Exchange, Borsen

Of course there is far more red brick to be discovered in Copenhagen but I hope I’ve stirred your curiosity enough to pick up a map and take a walk in search of some of Copenhagen’s finest historical buildings.

 

A Day Trip to Bath

So I was one week away from my trip to Denmark when I began to get impatient, so I booked a coach ticket and spent a day in Bath.

Bath is a city in southwest Somerset, a three hour coach trip from London. The city of Bath has ancient origins, it was originally founded as a spa by the Romans in the first century AD. Due to the presence of hot springs, the Romans built baths and a temple in the area, a tradition they had brought with them from their homelands.

Bath is also famous for its medieval heritage and especially Bath Abbey. We owe a lot to the Georgians for their expansion of Bath through the construction of Georgian period architecture, which gives the impression of a classical style and uniform palatial beauty.  The Victorians further expanded the city with fine architecture such as the Theatre Royal with the Grand Pump Room which are both connected to the Roman baths.

As we entered the main high street, which is a 5 minute walk from the bus station, I felt as if I was walking back in time. As you walk up the main high street, you eventually hit a beautiful courtyard on your right, which leads to Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

I was absolutely impressed by the Abbey, though small it boasts one of the largest examples of Gothic Perpendicular style in the West Country. Prior to entering the Abbey (it wasn’t yet open) we paid a visit to the Roman baths.

Roman Baths with a view of Bath Abbey

Roman Baths with a view of Bath Abbey

Though pricey (some £13.o0 for a ticket), the baths are definitely worth a visit. The team of historians and archaeologists at the baths have come together to put on an excellent show of the Roman baths. The tourist is guided (with a complimentary audio guide) through the baths, into the main building where we had a the chance to experience the mouth of the hot springs and the Temple of the Goddess Sulis Minerva. The tourist is taken back in time to ancient Roman Britain, we were exposed to daily and religious life in Britain under Rome.

One of the 19th century carvings of Roman Emperors

One of the 19th century carvings of Roman Emperors

The Great  Bath

The Great Bath

The best of Rome

The best of Rome

I was glad to have been able to recap on my Roman bath knowledge, frigidarium, tepiderium, calderium…

Our next stop was the beautiful Bath Abbey. The abbey was founded in the 7th century though the building that stands today is predominately in the Perpendicular Gothic style of the 14th and 16th centuries (which led onto the development of a Tudor style).

The first thing that I was absolutely amazed by is the sense of vertical lines through the impressively carved fan vaulting.

Fanned Vaulting Bath Abbey

Fanned Vaulting Bath Abbey

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Though small in comparison to a cathedral and with only the main vessel and single aisle on each side, the architects have managed to create the illusion of great space and light through the magnificent stained glass windows.

19th Century Stained Glass Windows

19th Century Stained Glass Windows

Perpendicular

Perpendicular

The Main Vessel of Bath Abbey

The Main Vessel of Bath Abbey

The facade is interesting in that on either side of the western entrance, there are carved ladders on which angels ascend and descend the heavens.

Angels on Ladders

Angels on Ladders

Flying Buttresses

Flying Buttresses

My absolute favorite architectural touch would have to be the external flying buttresses with their beautifully carved pinnacles, which were first introduced in French High Gothic architecture.

There is no entry fee to enter the abbey though donations are welcome. I would definitely suggest paying a visit to Bath Abbey.

Other things to do and see in Bath:

If you like Georgian architecture I would suggest visiting the Royal Crescent, Lansdown Crescent and The Circus which look like the beautiful Georgian houses lined up outside Regent’s Park in London.

The 18th century Pulteney is said to have been designed to resemble the Rialto Bridge in Venice and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. It is one of the only bridges to have the double purpose of having a crossing and shops built into it. The design was apparently based on Palladio’s rejected plan for the Rialto in Venice.

Museums: Bath has plenty of museums from the Fashion Museum to the Museum of East Asian Art, both of which are behind the center close to The Circus (for those Georgian architecture fans). There is also the Victoria Art Gallery which is at the end of the Pulteney Bridge.

Have amazing tea/coffee/hot chocolate (or as I did, have them all!) at Jacob’s coffee house! They even do gluten free sweet treats.

Jacob's Coffee House

Jacob’s Coffee House

 

The downside:

Being a center for tourism, Bath has been overtaken with high street brands and restaurant chains. It became a bit suffocating after passing TOPSHOP, New Look, H&M and not one but three EE phone shops. After a couple of hours of seeing the same chain shops and restaurants I began a desperate search for something a little bit different and more independent. Step away from consumerist nightmare to Walcot Street, which runs off of London Street and is a 5 minute walk from the center. Here you will find independent cafes and restaurants, charity and vintage shops and boutique furniture stores. It’s also peaceful and hidden from the throng of tourists in the city center. We even found a little chapel that was hosting a contemporary art exhibition.

Walcot Street, the place to be

Walcot Street, the place to be

So if you’re in London and fancy a quiet day away from the Big Smoke, take a National Express bus to Bath Spa. Tickets can be bought online via the National Express website. Coaches leave hourly from Victoria Coach Station to Bath City Center.

Enjoy! Next stop… Copenhagen!