Monday, November 21, 2005

Europe 2: A Taste of France

Clockwise from top left: Bordeaux's San Michelle Cathedral; Canale, the local rum based specialty of Bordeaux - an amazing dessert; The Japanese Garden in Monaco; Changing of the guard in front of Monaco's Palace.

A Taste of France (and Monaco)

CITIES AND DATES: Bordeaux – September 1-3, 2005;
Nice – September 4-6, 2005;
Lyon – September 7-8, 2005;
Paris – September 9-13, 2005;
Avignon – November 9-10, 2005;
BREADS: Clawed Toasted Sesame; Sunflower and Corn Baguette;
PASTRIES: Drop (Vanilla Liquer Crème, Chocolate Chips, Almonds); Pistachio and Sour Cherry Cornbread
DESSERTS: Canale – rum pudding dessert, specialty of Bordeaux;
FRUITS: Red Plum Apples
HOSTELS: Bordeaux – Hotel Studio
Nice – Hostel Meyerbeer Beach
Lyon – Hotel Stars in Bron: Awful – like a cruise ship run aground, this sea themed hotel was dirty, cramped and most importantly, nearly an hour by tram Lyon’s center.
Paris – Hotel des Olympiades in Montmarte: The dingy, Bohemian hotels of Parisian yesteryear still exist. Rooms are shabby, with worn carpet and tattered, mismatched bedspreads. There is a single toilet and shower on each floor. The hotel fits the Moulin Rouge past of Montmarte, the take it as it comes, communal, no frills style evokes lonely writers laboring over their passion in the solitude of sweaty rooms.
GROCERY STORES AND MARKETS: Bordeaux – Auchan: Huge, amazingly cheap and inspirational. A testament of France’s ubiquitous love of food.
Lyon – Des Halles: the city’s largest indoor market was as haute cuisine as a market can get. Unfortunately, this also meant the prices were quite haute as well.
CATHEDRALS: Bordeaux – Basilique San Michelle and San Andre: San Michelle is a study in Catholic anachronism. While the church design and its most valued relics date from as early as the 15th century, the stained glass windows are fascinatingly modern. After the bombings of WWII destroyed the original windows, local artists created a new series of stained glass for the Basilica in the 1950s. Their design mixes cubist elements, reminiscent of Picasso, while still portraying classical and Biblical scenes. The amalgam of stylistics serves to capture not only the history of God, but the cathedral’s own story as well.
RANDOM: Bordeaux has great benches along the Rue Clemenceau in case you arrive so late that your hostel is already closed and end up having to sleep on a park bench. Good times.
Nice – Drinking champagne along the boardwalk late at night.
SITES: Paris – Musee d’ Orsay: The Louvre may have the Mona Lisa, but the Orsay has everything else. I fyou can resists the temptation to re-enact the scene in Godard’s “The Outsiders” when the threesome run though the Louvre in under ten minutes, the Orsay will provide smaller crowds and more stunning art. The museum itself is art, illuminated throughout on its perch on the Seine’s left bank. Time is a central focus of the Orsay’s design, with clocks modeled on art nouveau styles and train station inspirations overlaid on the museum’s windows. But the collection is the true astonishment, pieces by Van Gogh, Manet, Pisarro, Seurrat, Rousseau, and an extensive display of Monet’s life work. The Orsay is five floors of the premier French and Western European sculpture, paintings, and furniture from the last 200 years. It may not have the Louvre’s reputation, but perhaps that’s for the best. Plus, there’s discounted admission if you’re 18-25;
The Pompidou: Amazing – Based around large, ideological themes and not chronology, the collection was our favorite in Paris. Free guided tours in English on Saturdays at 3 pm; Art Market near the Rue des Martyrs in Montmarte; Notre Dame (of course, need I mention the Eiffel Tower); Tuilleries.
DAY TRIP: From Nice: Monaco – The epitome of wealth, privilege and luxury, Monaco’s rococo buildings practically rise right out of the sea. The views are mesmerizing, the streets remarkably clean, and the concentration of tourists, overwhelming. But the trip is worth it for the sight of the Palace’s white-suited guards to the surreal cliff and beach vistas. The Japanese Garden is a welcome and needed reprieve amidst the cities dense crowds. Though tiny, it’s a beautiful and serene greenspace.
BARS: Nice – Chez Wayne: Overpriced and like a “Girls Gone Wild Video” gone even wrong. The drinks cost too much, the seating is shabby, and the photos of girls revealing their chests seem less exotic than pathetic.
ODDS AND ENDS: Great public transport systems in both Bordeaux and Lyon, mainly utilizing the tram, but in Lyon, there is also an underground metro.
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