Bookgrrl’s 7 wonders of the world

This is my last Top 7 for NaBloPoMo. It took longer to complete, owing to a couple of days I didn’t post (oops!). I will still welcome requests for Top 7 lists (they have been popular!) when normal blogging resumes in December.

These are my 7 Wonders of the world. These are wonders I have seen and experienced, so they may not necessarily correspond to big things that people have built or nature has wrought. But they’re still pretty special to me.

1. Michelangelo- St Peter’s, the Pieta, David, the Bruges Madonna. His work truly moved me to tears. Seeing David for the first time at the end of the corridor in the was a wondrous experience.
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2. Montmartre in the morning, when there is no one about. Seeing Sacre Coeur in the morning light, with noone about, viewing the Eiffel Tower in the distance from the top of the hill, then buying some pain au chocolat for breakfast to eat in our apartment with freshly brewed coffee was one of the perfect Parisian moments.

view of Eiffel Tower from Montmartre

3. Going to bed at 10.30 at night in Northern Scotland on Lewis, in broad daylight, then waking up temporarily at 2am to find it was getting light. It nearly did my head in, but it was an unforgettable experience.
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4. I did my Masters in Information Architecture, with a baby, a preschooler and a husband. I squeezed it in between gym visits, working part-time, and doing family stuff. I wonder how how in heaven’s name I managed to do it, as well as start blogging, but there you go!

5. I have two very interesting little people, whose inventiveness in telling stories amazes me, whose ability to generate a mess astounds me, and no matter how many times I yell at them, still love me.

6. Being with Mr BG for the last 16 years, who still surprises me with little things like washing dishes and cleaning the stovetop. Despite his belief that farts are funny, he is a wonderful person.

7. You are reading this, and I am thankful for the wonders of the Internet, and the ease of WordPress making it easy to write. Thank you.

Street Art in Rome and Paris

Sometimes there can only be so many photos you can take of historic monuments when you go overseas. Sometimes the more interesting aspects of a city can be the things people walk past and don’t notice.
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Opposite the Colosseum in Roma, two ladies are resting, totally oblivious to the knight riding a bicycle.
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Yoda striking a pose in the Piazza del Popolo, Roma, with Miss BG.
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It’s not a hat. ‘An elephant in a boa’ A stencil on a wall in Montmartre, Paris which is a lovely reminder of one of my favourite books The Little Prince.

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This was near Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, on the wall of a school playground. The artist is known as Invader, and featured in Exit Through the Gift Shop. I was quite excited to see it and the kids thought they looked pretty cool. It became a game to find more of them πŸ™‚
And we did!
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Review- Paris: A Guide to the City’s Creative Heart

I was using any excuse to read books on Paris, guidebooks especially. Combining this with the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge is a win-win situation.

Paris: A guide to the city’s creative heart is a beautiful book to read andΒ  to look at, with photographs and descriptive language that take you on a journey of words along the laneways and boulevards of one the world’s most beautiful cities.

The author and photographer is Janelle McCulloch, who has written several books on architecture, travel and cooking, gardening and interior design. She has used her expertise gleaned from numerous trips to deliver an insider’s guide to one of the most beautiful and stylish cities of the world.

While it is recommended to take with you as a guide, I’d be reluctant to, as it is such a beautiful book and I am afraid it would get knocked about in my luggage. It is a coffee-table style book that is perfect to dip into to while away an hour or so curled up on the couch on a rainy afternoon.

The book is divided into two parts- the first part being a stroll through the arrondissements of Paris- a flaneur’s guide, with the second part a handbook to shops, galleries and museums, bookstores, fashion, fabric and accessories that you will find.

The descriptions of the arrondissements flow- Janelle writes beautifully and evocatively. The photos accompanying the chapters are exquisite, but I would much rather captions with the photos rather than captions at the back of the book.

The maps of arrondissements are hand drawn giving it a bespoke feel. Truly the book befits its subject matter :).

It is a lovely gift for Francophiles, and for those who want to keep their memories of Paris alive!

A tale of two cities

We head to the Gare du Nord on foot to catch the Eurostar, check in and head through passport control. It feels strange to be talking to an English officer in Paris in English.

Getting on the train proves to be an interesting exercise. Heading to the car we’re supposed to be on, I circle around a gaggle of elderly English women returning from a trip who are clustered around the doorway. ‘Excuse me,’ I hear from one of the women’ There IS a QUEUE.’ I haven’t yet touched English soil, and already I’m being castigated for not having minded the great English institution of the queue. ‘Sorry,’ I reply, ‘I thought you were just standing around talking.’ In my defence, there was no discernible line, and all they appeared to be doing was discussing how to get on the train. They puff up in indignagion at someone actually talking back to them rather than saying the usual response (sorry!), and an American couple smile at me. Clearly they have had experience with the queue nazis.

We leave Paris, head through some stunning countryside under overcast skies and emerge from the Channel Tunnel to…sunshine. I know! I was pretty floored- gobsmacked, flummoxed and bewildered. It feels quite alien to have sunny weather in England.

We meet my brother Andrew at the railway station and head for our accommodation in Highbury. It’s halfway between Andrew’s and my other brother Mark’s flats. It overlooks Highbury fields, another playground and is about 50 metres from a Tube station and a supermarket. The kids are also super excited because it’s a chance to see TV in English for the first time in three weeks. Actually we’re pretty excited too πŸ™‚ .

London is familiar and alien at the same time, and the good weather makes it even more alien. People are flocking to the commons to sit in the grass and read, sunbake, have picnic dinners, throw a Frisbee, or kick the footy around (a round football). At the local shopping centre in Angel, deckchairs were available for shoppers to sunbake in the courtyard. I had seen the same type of behaviour in Paris, where small living spaces make for a great appreciation of green communal spaces and playgrounds for children. However whereas the English love nothing more than to sit on the grass, the French seem to prefer benches and chairs- all the better to avoid grass stains πŸ™‚ .

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And just like Paris, London can keep on surprising you- we found the TARDIS at Earl’s Court! Master BG wanted to know how we knew it was there. His dad informed him he was friends with Amy Pond and she sent him an email telling him it would be there that day πŸ™‚ .

A tale of Parisian museums

Over a period of five days we visited 5 museums in Paris. ‘Only 5?’ I hear you ask, or is it ‘OMG, that’s a lot to cover!’

There are so many to choose museums in Paris that you could spend your entire trip doing nothing but museum visiting, and miss out on seeing the sights, walking through markets and simply enjoying being in Paris. You need to have a balance between the two, especially with the added challenge of having the little BGs with us. The museum has to be engaging with adults and children alike, and easy to navigate so we can get to see what we want to see. These were the five museums we visited, all very different experiences, with the one thing in common that they were all free for kids- hurray!

Musee d’Orsay-Thursday

One of my favourite all-time museums, and one which I had visited the last time I was in Paris- it’s like visiting an old friend. We arrive there not long after it has opened and there’s no queue. There’s a Degas exhibition of his nudes as a added bonus at the time we visit, much to Master BG’s amusement (bottoms and body parts attract much mirth and snickers from a 7 year old boy). We also point out the building and explain how it used to be a railway station, and look at the glass ceiling, the huge clock faces (very reminiscent of Hugo) and the models of the building, which elicit a lot of interest from the kids. We visit the Impressionist and post-Impressionist rooms and simply look and marvel. As we’re staying around Montmartre, it’s a bit of a buzz to see the paintings that were created there here on the walls.

Miss BG loves the ballet paintings of Degas and his ballerina sculpture, while Master BG is quite taken with Vincent van Gogh, or the farmer as he calls him, because he lives in the country. They both get quite taken with Seurat and how he used lots of dots to create his paintings. The bookshop and giftshops are excellent, and Miss BG emerges with a picture book about Degas and Master BG has a Rubik’s cube of van Gogh images.
Verdict- a good time was had by most- Miss BG did chuck a wobbly in a crowded room, but we had pushed our time there by that stage. As it’s a museum with a targeted period and collection, it’s much more manageable to see what you want to see.

Musee du Louvre-Friday

I had never visited it on previous visits, mainly because I thought it would be insanely busy, tacky and full of people wanting to see the Mona Lisa.
My preconceptions were pretty spot on, but there were some surprises. Seeing the foundations of the original medieval Louvre were pretty awe-inspiring, and the rooms themselves as a palace were a marvel in themselves. The basic guide of the Louvre was also very good and showed you where the key works of art were located. It was insanely busy, and full of people wanting to see the Mona Lisa- I felt sorry for the painting as it was literally being papped out of existence.

The museum was also full of Japanese tourists making peace signs in front of Botticelli frescoes or the Venus de Milo while their friends took a photo of them on their phone. At this point I slapped them and told them this was not the place nor painting in which to be so inane and self-absorbed (not really, but I truly wanted to do that). It was hot and hellish, and not really a great artistic experience. People were there because it was a tourist attraction and to say they had seen the Mona Lisa and it was all right, a bit smaller than I had expected, rather than to see art. We escaped and headed for the Tuileries Gardens where we had a wonderful time at the playground (ie the kids played on a cool playground, while the parents recovered on one of the heaps of chairs and benches surrounding the play area), and had an icecream.
Verdict- If you avoid the crush around the Mona Lisa and just wander around looking at the ceilings, and other collections, you would probably have a better experience. It is a vast collection of art in a vast space, and a bit unwieldy.

Musee de Montmartre- Sunday

This is a little museum about the social history and artiditic legacy of Montmartre. It is located in the former building in which Renoir lived and painted, has a garden and two resident black cats. In here you could learn about the artists who lived and painted in the area, the cabarets, the Commune of 1870, and the building of Sacre Coeur, all in relatively quiet surroundings. There was a free audioguide available and the staff were quite friendly.
Verdict It’s small so you can get in and see it in under an hour, it was reasonably priced and in a beautiful setting. A lovely outing!

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Espace de Dali- Sunday

This was a five minute walk from the Musee de Montmartre and the only place in Montmartre where you could see art (not counting the myriad of artists who flock to the Place du Terre to sell their paintings). It was where you could see over 300 works of art from this artist. The works of art are largely prints, sculptures and several letters, and primarily come from the latter part of Dali’s career. I saw a Dali exhibition a couple of years ago in Melbourne which was comprehensive and contained everything you would want to see. This didn’t really match up to that experience, and a bit disappointing – a bit overpriced too!
Verdict -don’t bother, and save your money for crepes au chocolat.

Centre Pompidou- Monday

It was wet and rainy, and we had just left the Eiffel Tower, so now was as good a time as any to visit. The architecture and the setting is quite appealing to children, but it was a bit too wet to stand and look at then inside out building. It was pretty quiet and we were sharing it with art students, school groups ( how cool would that be to come in for an excursion and see Picasso and Matisse!), and a few other tourists braving the weather. We weren’t disappointed. We could move around and stand in front of paintings and sculptures and talk about them without getting jostled. There were big glass windows that Miss BG could stand in front of and look out onto the street below. The bookshop is quite extensive too.
Verdict-really great for children, but having lunch here is an expensive experience.

Bookgrrl versus the Eiffel Tower

Once upon a time there was a little boy and girl who were travelling around Europe with their Mum and Dad. When they got to Paris the Mum and Dad asked the little boy what he wanted to do. ‘Climb the Eiffel Tower!’ was the answer. His teacher had gone up the tower and he wanted to do the same. So they arrive at the tower to find….a queue, the most hated aspect of travelling to popular tourist spots.
Unfortunately only one lift was in operation and the queue to get on stretched miles and miles. The family shivered in the wind and the cold. The little girl shivered and complained about the long wait, but the mum and dad persisted, until defeated by the cold wind they departed for the relative warmth of a carousel.
The second time they arrived it was slightly warmer, but the queue was even longer. The parents looked at each other in despair. What was the point of standing in a line for over two hours when there was so much else to see in Paris? The family retreated to travel on a Seine river cruise and sight see, and vowed to get up even earlier, come hell or high water.
The third time, the family turned up one hour before the tour was to open. They joined the queue, which only had about 100 people in front of them. They were warmly dressed, and prepared for the wait. They stuck it out, and were rewarded. The tower finally opened, the moved along in the queue, bought their tickets and got on that blasted tower. It didn’t matter that it was foggy and overcast and they couldn’t see as far as they liked. They were on the tower, and it wasn’t too crowded, and there was heaps of cool information about the tower aimed at schoolchildren who would come and visit on an excursion. The mum, dad, little boy and little girl were very happy that they finally got to climb the Eiffel Tower.

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Until it started to rain.
The end.

Montmartre and the writer’s residence

We’re staying in a writer’s flat a stone’s throw from Sacre Coeur. It’s a part of Paris that is a bit unfamiliar to me, so just going for a walk will always uncover surprises.

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In fact the flat itself has a couple of surprises, with a few cunning storage spaces. It takes me a day to locate the hairdryer, and another day to realise we hadn’t properly plugged in the wifi. Unfortunately we never seem to find where the spare toilet paper is stored and we have to go out and get some (a hairdryer I can live without as I discovered in Florence, but I do need loo paper!). There are books in English to read- I read about 3 in the week we are here, and we refer to the flat as Barbara’s place. She is like the absent relative who has let us stay in her place, with strict instructions regarding the kitchen bench (always wipe up as it’s not properly sealed) and the bathroom (don’t sit on the see of the bath as it’s fragile. Oh and an insurance assessor will be coming g around to look at water damage on the ceiling from an upstairs flat).

I have an afternoon nap the day after we arrive from Florence, still recovering from a cold. Mr BG took the kids out for a walk up to Sacre Coeur and to the carousel at the foot of the church. The afternoon crush of tourists to see Sacre Coeur is amazing- we have an inkling of this as the tour buses drop them off just around the corner from our square.

Subsequent strolls reveal even more surprises- another carousel and the Abbesses Metro station with full Art Nouveau trims and just around the corner from that, a vintage fashion shop! I buy a jacket for 15 euro, mainly to keep warm, but it still looks quite nice. On Friday afternoon, we are able to buy dinner from the market which appears in our square, a roast chicken and beautiful potatoes.

We find the best time to stroll is morning, when the rubbish collectors are hard at work clearing up the previous day’s rubbish. Sacre Coeur looks quite peaceful, even with Korean evangelists singing and speaking in tongues on its steps.

The best thing about our location is the playground just outside our front door. We play there every day, with lots of seating for parents to keep an eye on children. The kids, despite language barriers, make friends and play quite happily with the locals. We learn the French for ‘push (poussez!) and that French dads are the same as other dads when they’re dragged to the playground. ‘Allez papa!’ cries a little boy as he drsgs his reluctant dad to the roundabout to push him and the other children. He does so for a couple of minutes before beating a hasty retreat to the comfort of his bench.