Category Archives: Paris

Versailles

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I went to Versailles on a Sunday. The rain was drizzling and the air was cold. Few people had ventured to the castle, much less the gardens. I was standing alone in the deserted park. The place was drenched in melancholy and it dawned on me that my surroundings had rarely reflected my state of mind so closely.

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My first time at Versailles, it was just my father and me. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed by the castle and don’t remember much apart from the Hall of Mirrors. To my impatient 12-year-old self, it was just an endless succession of room after old room. What I do remember vividly however was how enthralled my father looked.

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My father was a living history book. I was impressed by his knowledge and as we went back to Versailles together 10 years later, our visit was made so much livelier by all the anecdotes he told me and my mother. I had grown fond of the place myself –Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette and Stefan Zweig’s biography of the queen probably helped. It was a beautiful day, one where we explored the whole estate and on which I’ve looked back on through photos many times.

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As the years went by, Versailles became a regular meeting place for us between Normandy, where my parents lived, and Paris. We even made a day trip there when I worked in New York City and returned to France for the summer. It was a place where looked forward to seeing each other. We could forget about our daily lives and enjoy each other’s company among the things we loved: beautiful surroundings, art, history and good food. There are memories that make me smile, like the three of us running through the whole crowded castle to make it in time for lunch at Angelina’s before joining a guided tour. And then my mother and I kindly making fun of my father for looking like a kid in a candy store as our guide walked us through the kings’ private rooms.

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The last time I spoke of Versailles to my father, sadness took over for a minute. I thought he was regretting not being able to go there anymore and quickly changed the subject. He passed away from cancer several days later.

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I returned to Versailles with my mother a week after the funeral. It was one of these summer nights with fireworks throughout the gardens. The lit-up castle looked otherworldly and the golden gate stood like an entrance to another world.

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On my last visit to Versailles, I remembered how friends told me my father would always live in my mind and in my heart. As I walked through the exquisite design exhibition he would have loved, I couldn’t help but think of what objects he would have preferred and what jokes we would have told each other. I realized I was lucky to have this beautiful place close to home where I could remember our time together and promised myself to return on his birthday.

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Sunday morning in Montmartre

Montmartre Rue Maurice Utrillo 2

I never go to Montmartre. The Sacré Cœur and its surroundings are must-sees when you visit Paris but because it’s not central and I have no particular reason to ride the subway up to the butte, I hadn’t been since showing a friend around a year ago. What prompted me to return? A picture from the Brassaï exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville showing rue Foyatier, flights of stairs running down the hill with gorgeous lamps. There was an air of mystery to the image telling me that I was missing on something.

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Today was an exceptionally sunny day in an otherwise drab, rainy week, so it was perfect for exploring. I rode the subway up to the Abbesses station on line 12. What is striking about Montmartre is how it reminds one of a village within the city with its cobbled streets, greenery and old charm. This is after all where Amélie Poulain was shot.

Montmartre rue Gabrielle

Montmartre rue Chappe

Walking up the butte and along rue Gabrielle, you will come across a first picturesque flight of stairs on rue Chappe. Then turn around and climb those steps to get your first glimpse of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

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Head towards the grand entrance of the basilica but make a stop just before the funicular on your right: that is where you’ll find rue Foyatier, the beautiful street I mentioned in the introduction.

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You are now on the highest point of Paris so do take in the view. The basilica is surrounded by hordes of tourists but a music player (a harpist today) will probably ease the moment.

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With its monumental size and architecture, the Sacré-Cœur is a sight to behold but not really worth visiting several times. Instead I circled the basilica and headed down the charming rue Maurice Utrillo. Once there I turned right down rue Paul Albert.

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Wouldn’t you want to live there? And doesn’t this building remind you of the Flatiron in New York City?

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Then walk down the rue Ronsard to reach to the bottom of the park with its lovely carousel.

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Montmartre carousel

Montmartre Sacré Coeur carousel

To return to the top of the butte, you can either climb the 222 steps of rue Foyatier or use a metro ticket to ride the funicular.

Montmartre fountain

Montmartre place du Tertre

The place du Tertre is very touristy and honestly I didn’t bother to look at the art, but it’s a reminder of Montmartre’s past as the home of great painters such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Claude Monet.

Montmartre Eiffel Tower

There are many other things to discover in Montmartre: vines, tiny cobbled streets and chic houses half-hidden behind gates… Alas, my phone died. So now I suppose I have another good excuse to explore the area?

Have a great week everyone!

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