Kona Coast to Volcano National Park – Driving the West Coast


westsunsetWe had four wonderful nights on the Kona Coast in Kailua where we stayed in the Hale Kona Kai Condos.    This snapshot was of the sunset from our lanai the night we arrived after our trip around the north end of the island from Hilo.   We were a little apprehensive about the place because we had booked at the last minute and so got the worst condo i.e. the ONLY one not booked for our four nights and it was not ocean front, but on the side.   Here are a couple of shots from the pool deck.   There are rocks and tidal pools accessible from this area.westpoolviewcruise

westpoolviewThis turtle was feeding in the shallow water below the pool.
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It turned out that our condo on the side of the building was fine — we had a great view out to the ocean and of the lagoon next to the building.  The place was not gorgeous, but it was comfortable, had an excellent kitchen and a great view of the ocean from the lanai.  And the location was perfect.

Here we are just below our little terrace,  kitted out to go snorkeling in our Lands End rashguards.  The last time I was in Hawaii was in Honolulu 50 years ago with my family; I got fried to a crisp the first day (this was before spf ratings and good sun screen) and I was determined not to let that happen again.
westsnorkelgearWe got gear from Snorkel Bobs about a block from our condo.  First rate gear; you can even get a mask with a prescription faceplate if needed.  And it was not particularly expensive.

This is  Kahalu’u  beach which is a popular site about 5 miles south of Kailua.  The water is shallow and thus the reef is trashed here from people standing on it.  Advantage of the site are real ease of entry for newbies (last time we snorkeled was about 10 years ago in St. John, Virgin Islands) and lots of support services like lockers for valuables, food, picnic areas and beach.  There is also a huge variety of fish; we saw almost every fish on the card we were given by Snorkel Bob’s.  There were also volunteers helping people who were new to snorkeling.

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After our swim, I got one of the standard Hawaiian summer treats, shaved ice with flavoring.  You can also get it with a scoop of mango ice cream in the bottom.  Once was enough.
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The next day we headed for Honaunau Bay where the water is deep directly off the entry point on the lava and thus the coral is not damaged.  This is the snorkel site called ‘Two Step’ because of the entry off of two steps of lava.  It makes getting into the water easy;  getting out is a little trickier as you have to wait for the water to wash up and sort of grab the ledge and turn with the surge and plant your butt on the step.  Oh and avoid the sea urchins in holes on the rocks while you do this.
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Here Ed is poised to enter the water.  We enjoyed the beauty of this undersea spot so much, we came here again the following day.
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The snorkeling at both sites was excellent.  This is a raccoon butterfly fish.  There were several different gorgeous types of butterfly fish at both snorkel sites where we swam.
twostepraccoonYellow tangs are perhaps the most common fish; the striped angel fish looking things are Moorish Idols.

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The black durgeon has these wonderful electric blue stripes near the tail.
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This is a yellow trumpet fish; the fish is about two feet long.
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We loved the location of the condo; after an evening drink on the lanai watching a spectacular sunset every night we headed out to find dinner.

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This was a restaurant not far from the apartment.  I was a little concerned when they rolled out the hula dancers; a little of that goes a very long way for me.   But they were very good and the little girl student hula dancers were cute and this part of the program was mercifully short.
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The dancers were followed by a really very fine local folk singer singing his own songs in Hawaiian; we stayed until he was done; it was a lovely evening.
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There are loads of beach bars with decent food and excellent drinks; here we are the next night further down the beach.  The location was perfect for a relaxed vacation.
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As we left this restaurant we spotted this little guy in the glass between the stair steps to the exit.
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After four relaxed wonderful nights in Kona we headed south around the tip of the island to Volcano National Park where we planned to spend 4 nights.  (if we had to do it again, we would have done 5 on Kona and 3 on the volcano; we liked both, but we would really have loved another day of snorkeling)

Our first stop on this trip was Honaunau Bay again where we visited the ‘Place of Refuge’ or  Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park.  This was a spot where native Hawaiians who had broken tribal rules could find refuge from capital punishment.  There are remains of old stone structures as well as recreated wooden buildings as well as instructional video available.

Here I am standing in the park looking across to the area where we snorkeled the day before.  The Two Step launch for snorkeling in Honaunau Bay is across from the park and at one point Ed got hung up in the rocks and ended up on the shore of the refuge.
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Here is a traditional game played with pits and rocks.
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There are of course coconut palms throughout the island with many signs warning that a falling coconut can do a lot of damage.
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Carved totems near an old lodge.
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Effigy on the shore of Honaunau Bay; Ed’s reef in the background.
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There is a lot of very interesting lava flow here; this stuff looks like ropes and is called pahoehoe lava; a lot of it looks like brownies but some of it is in interesting ropey twists.  The other form of lava is called a’a and looks like plowed up dark dirt.
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Old walls enclosing ceremonial areas and encampments.
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Traditional outrigger canoes.
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On our way out we spotted these orchids near the parking lot.
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Our next stop was the Greenwell Farms coffee plantation.  Ed loves coffee and really wanted to stop at a coffee farm and several people recommended this one. There was a casual but professional tour here and the opportunity to pick up some coffee.  Unfortunately they were out of bags of green beans as we wanted to buy some for Zach who roasts his own.   Here we are in front of a coffee tree.
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Coffee plants are cut back every so often; here you can see those that were cut back after harvest last fall and are just coming back.  The trees to the left are larger coffee bushes.

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Ripe coffee has red berries; you can see signs advertising ‘cherry for sale’  or ‘wanted cherry pickers’  or ‘we buy cherry’.  They are talking about coffee which looks like cherries when ripe.  This time of year there are green beans and blossoms; these are often on the same stem of a plant so that harvesting is very labor intensive as the ripe berries are plucked leaving the green berries undisturbed till their time.
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They ship green beans all over the world where they are roasted and sold under a variety of brand names.
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These are the green houses where new plants are being nurtured before they are transplanted to the fields.
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The Kona Coast has the right climate for growing coffee but the rain makes drying it difficult.  The beans dry in the sun and these red roofs are retractable so they can be drawn back for morning sun and  then shelter the beans from the late afternoon rain.westcoffeedryingsheds

This was one of the original plants set over 70 years ago by the matriarch of the family who decided to build a coffee farm here.
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In addition to coffee there are a number of other fruit and nut trees on the farm.  Here is one of the ubiquitous apple banana trees.  The small sweet bananas on the island are sold at stands along the roads and are extremely tasty.
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Here is a papaya.
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The farm is also home to a number of horned chameleons; like all of the island lizards, it is an import;  the Jackson chameleons were introduced into Hawaii in the 1970s; they were originally African.    One of the guides on the farm wrote a book for kids starring this chameleon.   The chameleons really do blend into the background.  This green guy is in the green foliage.  The second chameleon is doing a good job of imitating the tree trunk.
westchameleonwestchameleon2After our visit to the farm, we headed to one of the many small independent cafes we found in Hawaii for another nice meal.  This little guy is a red billed cardinal, a type of bird we had not seen before.  He was on the patio hoping for some lunch.
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The special was ono — every special we saw was either Mahi or Ono.  This is about half the daily special — we shared one.  As always there is a big scoop of rice.
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After lunch  we had one more stop before the volcano.  We had heard of a black sand beach where sea turtles were reliably found resting in the sun.  The beach, Punaluu, is on the south end of the island and is a beautiful spot.
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westblacksandsAnd indeed there were turtles in the water near shore and resting on the black sands;  these critters really look extremely awkward as soon as they get near land.  They are so graceful when you encounter them in deep water snorkeling, but they are not designed for shore.
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After a quick stop at Punaluu, we headed for Volcano, the little town near the National Park.  We stayed at the Bamboo Orchid Cottages B&B.   We had a lovely little studio room with a fireplace and a heated waterbed which turned out to be welcome in the chilly nights.   Our room was over a garage and so a bit separate from the main building and private.  This is the view from our balcony into the rain forest.
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The landlord’s specialty was a papaya boat at breakfast; rarely have I had an actually ripe and tasty papayas here at home.  These were excellent.
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Our first night we drove up to the end of the road nearest the active volcanic Kilauea crater.  One can’t get close enough to see in and there is no lava flowing at present that is visible to visitors, but at night the glow of the molten lava lights up the sky.  It is an impressive sight and we were glad we went to see it that first night as we planned our hikes for the coming days.
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Driving the East Side of the Big Island


akakalizard-2This wonderful little lizard is an Hawaiian gecko; we found him scurrying about the sidewalk picnic tables of a small cafe where we stopped for lunch on our way to Akaka Falls north of Hilo Hawaii.

We were in Hilo so I could give a speech and then we spent 8 additional nights on the island.  Our hotel in Hilo was on Banyan Drive near a park called Coconut Island.  The banyan trees and monkeypod trees in this area were stunning.  The banyans were named after various entertainment celebrities from decades ago.
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We stayed at the Hilo Hawaiian hotel with a wonderful view from our room balcony across to Coconut Island with Mauna Loa in the distance.
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northhilohotelview2northhilohotelviewHilo is a small town with a fairly low tourist presence.  A colleague recommended a local restaurant called Hawaiian Style Cafe and we went there on a Friday night after my speech.  It was jam packed so we had a half hours wait for a table, which was totally worth it.  We were the only obvious tourists in the place which was full of local families enjoying a Friday night out.  It felt a little bit like stepping back to the 50s all over the Island; lots of cafes with the old chrome dinette tables or old fashioned padded booths and homey menus.

Here Ed has a special that night that combined Hawaiian favorites like poke (raw marinated ahi tuna chunks, a fabulous smoked pulled pork, another pork dish steamed in taro leaves, a raw salmon ceviche like dish, a stew (they were out of a chicken dish that was called for on the platter) and the  very Hawaiian poi which is an entirely acquired taste.  Wallpaper paste pretty much sums it up; the waitress suggested putting sugar in it.
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I had grilled lamb ribs; I love lamb and these were really very good.  Note the ubiquitous servings of white rice and macaroni salad.  This was standard everywhere we ate in Hawaii.  The macaroni salads vary quite a bit but were always full of fat/mayonnaise and often had tuna or rice or egg in them.  They were very tasty.

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Hawaiians take environmental concerns seriously; we found these little signs in the cement near storm drains throughout Hilo.
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The morning after our last day in Hilo we drove around the island to the north to arrive in Kailua Kona where we were renting a condo for 4 nights.  Before leaving town we stopped in Hilo at Rainbow Falls.  Because it had been raining for several days before we arrived, the falls were pretty impressive.
akakarainbowNorth of Hilo on the route along the Ocean is the entrance to another great spot to view waterfalls:  Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls.  We actually did this as a sidetrip from  Hilo on Thursday and so bypassed it as we headed  up the coast on Saturday for our trip to Kona, but we will take a little detour here to visit it.

At the car park for the falls which costs $5 for a carload of visitors ($1 a visitor to use the trail if you park outside and walk in) there is a display describing the life cycle of an interesting fish the O’opui which climbs these steep falls improbably but effectively to spawn.
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The half mile trail loop took us through a lovely tropical forest, first to Kahuna Falls and then around to Akaka Falls.akakaredplant2

This lovely flower is a torch ginger; various gingers are found all over the island.
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Much of the trail is through lush columns of greenery.
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Kahuna Falls is enormous but the viewpoint is at a great distance so it is the less impressive of the two falls in this park.
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From Kahuna viewpoint, we walked back though the forrest;  here we are beside one of the many banyans along the trail.
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A very pleasant stroll through tropical greenery.
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Akaka Falls.  The falls drop 442 feet.  The second snapshot is a closeup of the head of the falls.  Imagine those little Oopui fish making the climb up these falls or as larvae, the trip down the falls and out to the sea.

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More lush vegetation including this banana plant and small stream and falls as we climbed back up to the parking lot.  There are lots of bananas growing on the island and they include several varieties smaller and much more flavorful than the monoculture bananas available in mainland grocery stores.  We stopped by roadside stands and picked up bunches of the bananas several times during our stay.
akakabananaakakasmallfallsOn the day we drove around the island we passed by Akaka Falls and headed north to the Hawaaian Tropical Botanical Gardens.  This was a dazzling site filled with tropical plants from around the world.  Here Ed stands by a  heliconium.  I will do a separate entry on the plants in the garden.  In making this stop plan at least a couple of hours to make the visit and come with water and insect repellant.  Both can be purchased at the visitor’s center if forgotten.

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After the visit to the gardens we headed up the coast further catching occasional glimpses of the sea.botanreef

For lunch we took a slight detour off the main road to the little town of Honokaa which has an old timey western town sort of look.
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We ate at Grandma’s Kitchen which turned out to be a great choice.  A nice local place with a jovial owner who likes to introduce the tourists by the town they are from.  We had fish and chips and loco moco and the one order of fish and chips made with local ono would have been quite enough for the two of us.  One thing we have found in Hawaii is lots of little mom and pop restaurants with very tasty local food at a very reasonable price.  We had heard that food was crazy expensive in Hawaii because of the transport costs involved, but we did not find it so particularly in small local cafes like this.botanhonakaa

We had seen loco moco several times, usually on enormous platters big enough to serve a family but being devoured by one young man.  Loco moco is a layer of rice, topped with a couple of hamburger patties and then by fried eggs with the whole thing smothered in gravy.  It is sort of Hawaiian poutine. I wanted to try it and so ordered a small bowl for $6.50.  As you can see it was still enormous.  The beef on the island is very good; the entire north half is pretty much all cattle ranch.  A very tasty comfort food dish but way more than I could begin to eat for lunch.northlocomocco

The land at the north of the island is beautiful.  Rolling hills dotted with cattle predominate.northfieldsbotanhillsidetree

Once you round the head of the island and head down the Kohala coast to the west, the landscape is fairly hideous.  It looks like miles and miles of bulldozed dark earth although it is in fact lava of the type called A’a.  This snapshot is eerily beautiful as O’hia and other trees try to make a comeback in the barren waste; most of this stretch is simply ugly.  The beaches, many of them artificially constructed are supposed to be among the only sandy classic beaches on the big island but we did not drive to any of the Kohala resorts since we had rented a condo on the Kona Coast.  To get to the Kohala beach towns you drive through miles of this plowed earth looking desolation (most of it without trees, unlike this strip from a bit further south.)
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We were really glad we decided to drive around the island to Kona; it was a relaxing day with many interesting stops along the way.  We had thought to try a zip line adventure, but didn’t feel we had the time on this day.  Since we just read in the paper of another woman plunging 150 feet to rocks on one of these apparently not well regulated attractions, it is probably just as well.  Hawaii is a beautiful island with a variety of landscapes and we loved taking the time to enjoy it.akakajaneted

 

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Butte Aux Cailles — Village within Paris

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Paris is made up of a collection of neighborhoods.  They have their unique character  and sometimes it feels as if you have stumbled into a town in the countryside.  We started our journey to visit Butte aux Cailles — Quail Hill named for Pierre Cailles who owned a large vineyard in the area in the 16th century — at the place de Italie metro stop.

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Butte aux Cailles is a neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement characterized by low rise buildings, groups of single family homes arranged around courtyards or on private streets, and art nouveau architecture.  Here we are arriving in one of the main squares; this one  holds one of Paris’s many ‘Wallace Fountains’.  These are a ready source of fresh drinking water and were financed in the 19th century by a philanthropist Richard Wallace so that the poor would have access to potable water.  There are 67 of the larger fountains like this one here and there across Paris.  There are another dozen or so of a smaller or wall design.  We fill our water bottles whenever we spot one.  In the large fountains like this, there is a steady stream of potable water falling down the center behind the figures.
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This area is quiet in the daytime but the many cafes and bars are bustling at night.
caillesquare2The architecture is quite different from that in the Hausmann built center of Paris.  This little house is tucked in on Rue Michel.
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Starkly simple art nouveau architecture can be spotted throughout the district.  Here is a link to a picture of the Art Nouveau swimming pool.
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It has traditionally been a working class neighborhood and was not incorporated into Paris until the late 19th Century when its river, the  Bievre, was covered by pavement and its mills closed.  Here some of the local workers are maintaining one of the nouveau buildings.

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There are also villas; this is a term used in France for groups of private homes somewhat like planned developments, gated communities or compounds in the US.  Another example of villas occur in the 20th and can be viewed towards the end of this post.  These are a series of homes designed in an Alsatian style.  There is also an area with a Russian theme.
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This is a typical villa of small homes that runs into a factory at the end of the street.  It is very rare to see a loose dog in Paris — even rare to see loose cats — but we spotted one in this small sidestreet.
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There are not a bunch of tourist destinations in the Butte Aux Cailles.  The pleasure is in just the charm of these narrow streets and distinctive architecture.  Notice the metal rods that separate the street from the sidewalks.  There are barriers all over France to prevent people from driving cars or parking cars on the sidewalk.  It is still common to find a motorcycle driving up behind you when strolling down the sidewalk.
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These little road hersheys are another common barrier found on sidewalks.
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The Butte has relatively little ugly graffiti but a lot of street art.  caillehillpostscailleaccordianman caillestreetartdormir Caillesgrafcamera
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Some like the woman at the head of this piece just beg for pedestrian interaction; here is another.caillesgrafed

It is not surprising to see the elaborate street art since like the areas of the 19th and 20th filled with remarkable graffiti, the  Butte has become a popular area for artists and art studios.caillesatelier caillesartcarving

We like to pop into any church we find in Paris.  There is such a range of interesting church design in Paris.  The dome in the distance here is of St. Anne- de- la- Butte- Aux -Cailles.  It was built at the end of the 19th century in place of a wooden chapel on this spot.caillestreetchurch

While much of the church was completed at the turn of the 20th century the mosaics were not completed until the 1930s.  They are considered a major treasure of the art of mosaic.  Charles Mauméjean, of the Mauméjean glass works is the artist who completed them.  They have a sort of socialist realist feel to them in keeping with this staunchly working class area.caillechurchcaillestannesocialistcristo

For lunch we stopped at well known little restaurant/cafe, Le Temp du Cerisecaillesceriseoutside

This is a cosy little bistrot that is a popular spot for local workers and students to grab lunch.  We didn’t see anyone there who appeared to be a tourist except for us.  As is typical, the menu is on blackboards on the wall.caillesrestaurantcerise caillecerisemenu

The prices are low and the food is simple and hearty.caillesausage caillefish

After lunch we came across workers cleaning the narrow streets.  Paris invests a lot in street cleaning and is for the most part a clean city.  Even the scourge of dog doo is much less evident than it was 20 years ago.  I have even seen people pickup after their dogs as they do in the US.
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To avoid walking down the street being cleaned we wandered a bit further on and came upon the office of the Amis de la Commune de Paris, a group that seeks to keep the spirit of the Communards alive.
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The Communards briefly ruled Paris after the Franco Prussian War and sought to establish a democratic governance.  The national government didn’t want self governance in Paris although it was common in villages because of distrust of the radical workers in the cities.  After a series of battles at barricades around Paris during May of 1871, the Communards were defeated and several hundred lined up against walls and shot — most notoriously in Pere Lachaise the scene of the last major battle.  A number of supporters were swept up including Gustave Courbet the artist who fled to Switzerland and Louise Michel one of the radical leaders who was deported with others to New Caledonia.  The history is complex and interesting; the wikipedia summary can be found here.

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We bought a copy of a poster of a recent Communard event at their headquarters and it now hangs in our living room in Chicago.

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On top of the world — Mauna Kea

keatrilevelWe had always dreamed of standing on Mauna Kea under a clear sky with the piercing stars and the Milky Way wheeling above us.  Alas the cloud cover on the night we visited didn’t allow all that, but we did get to see a stunning telescope view of the Orion Nebula as well as an excellent view of both Jupiter and Mars.  But we had to wait for gaps in the clouds.

It is a steep drive up to the visitor’s center at 9,000 feet and our underpowered Mazda rental car could barely make it.  To go onto the summit requires a 4 wheel drive.  Since there are no accessible telescopes at the summit, it is not worth the effort unless it is a very clear night.  There are good size telescopes and an excellent staff of volunteers to assist in the area around the center.

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We had been told to get to the Visitor’s Center by 6 since that is when they play the film.  I had imagined a film that showcased the science, the telescopic views of the huge scopes on top of the hill; instead it was a truly tedious whiny film about controversies surrounding putting science on the sacred mountain.  They do play the film several times, so don’t worry about making the start if you want to see it.

I left the film and climbed a cinder cone across the rode in order to watch the sunset.  It is a bit of a huff and puff at this altitude for the old lady, but definitely worth it.  Here we are reaching the summit of the cinder cone.

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We were perched above most of the cloud cover here and the views were simply stunning.  As I looked across to Mauna Loa it felt like we were in a Japanese water color.kealoa1

This is a view to the west, Mauna Loa is to the right of these shots.keaheart

This view in the same area looked like piles of cotton candy.  keacottoncandy

As the sun began to set, the changing colors provided a constant show.  Here is a view of Maui to the north of the Big Island.keamaui

And the clouds back towards Mauna Loa.kealoa

Finally the sun sinks into the clouds and the sea.keatrilevel

keabilevelOnce the sun has sent, the sky is even more dramatic.  keaelephantskeasunset
Once it was dark, the staff and volunteers broke out the telescopes and we had a chance for some wonderful views during breaks in the cover.  It wasn’t possible to take pictures through the telescopes.  This is a handheld snapshot of Mars taken with a tiny point and shoot camera.  The clear air did allow for a fair shot.keamarsIt is best to save Mauna Kea for a clear day and that is hard to predict as the way to the mountain is usually shrouded deep in fog.  The highway is  a bit scary for that reason but is at least very well signed with lane and border reflectors.  But even on a less than optimal day, the views were wonderful.

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Mont St. Michel — Is that a real place?

goatWhen I shared this picture of the goat grazing in a field near St. Michel on Facebook, one of my daughter’s friends queried:   ‘Where is that?  Is that a real place?’   That is a fair question.  Mt. St. Michel does evoke thoughts of fantasy novels or worlds constructed for computer games.  And the best thing about it is that view from a distance rising above fields and mud flats.

It is one of those places we knew we had to see once.  This October we found ourselves with 5 unplanned nights on a trip to Paris before our apartment would be available.  A quick tour of some of the places we had always wanted to visit in Normandy seemed manageable.  We trained to Caen (it was only 15 Euro apiece with Prems tickets booked far in advance and printed on our computer)  We picked up a car and drove to St. Michel and a B&B on shore for our first night.  I had though we would prefer to be off the Island since the view at night would be so wonderful.

We were not thrilled with the B&B, shabby room, lousy bed and lame breakfast, but the view from the side window that evening hinted at the magic of Mt. St. Michel. goatbbview

Late October is a fairly uncrowded time for this site and only a few of the parking lots, which cover acres, were in use when we drove over to see as much as we could that first afternoon and evening. goatparkingThe lots are a long ways — maybe half a mile — from the bus stop for the shuttle that takes people across the causeway to the Mont.  Alas this set up seems to be designed to force people to walk through a tacky strip mall as it would be simple for the shuttle to run from the parking lots.  There is a bus for employees and the handicapped that comes a little closer to the lot, but even that requires a fair hike for the disabled.  We saw people on crutches struggling their way to the disabled pick up. On the other hand it is hard to imagine a site less suited for someone with mobility issues than Mt. St. Michel as the island itself is all steep stairs.  There is a magnificent view of the Mont from the parking lot itself.goatparkinglotviewThen the visitor is treated to a stroll by first ugly worker housing:goathousingAnd then several blocks of ugly strip mall and souvenir stands. goatgauntlet2goatgauntlet3In the old days, people drove across the mud flats and parked in lots that were underwater at high tide.  There are many stories of people being caught by the tide coming in and drowned or foundering in the quicksand or losing their cars to miscalculation of the tides.  This is all a thing of the past with the causeway.   The shuttle only goes a short distance across the causeway; and this is actually the most scenic part of the walk.  The tourist would be better served with a shuttle from the parking lot to the causeway and then walking across the causeway enjoying the magnificence of the Mont rising ahead.

The causeway is to be demolished and be replaced by a bridge which will supposedly prevent the silting up of the bay caused by the daming effect of the causeway.

goatbusThe final stop of the causeway shuttle bus  leaves you with a block or so walk to the base of the Mont. goatwalkfrom bus stopAs we approached we could see the sea walls that protected the lower parts of the village and get a sense of the island.  The Mont itself rises 300 feet above sea level and is topped by the Abbey.  There are about 300 residents.msmwallsheadlands

We were too late to visit the Abbey that evening, but we did have time to walk on the ramparts, have dinner and see the Mont at night.

I had read that to avoid the crowded central tourist packed commercial street, a traveler could walk up the ramparts to the left of the main entrance to the village, but it was blocked by construction when we were there so we walked up the center, stopping for hot chocolate early on.  To reach the Abbey you run a gauntlet of boutiques, food vendors and souvenir shops.

We quickly found some  stairs to the ramparts to avoid tourist hell.  As you can see from the view down, the main street is exceedingly narrow.  We were there in late October when there were relatively few tourists.  I cannot imagine trying to negotiate this pathway when it is filled with the outpourings of dozens of tourist buses.

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Our first evening we enjoyed exploring the ramparts.  Buildings are of course stacked on top of each other. msmroofsheadlands2msmjanetrampartsThe island gets the brunt of ocean weather and the buildings are either stone or shingle.  This jagged pattern at the window is typical of the shingle edging at windows and edges of roofs.

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Lead roofs and Lead gutters and downspouts are also common in the island’s robust weather resistant architecture.

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It is possible to walk along both sides of the island approaching the Abbey on the ramparts.  There are watch towers here and there affording a defensive view out over the mud flats and bay.  During the 100 years war, the Mont was the center of many battles but resisted being captured due to its easily defended structure.
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Before the causeway was constructed, people walked across these mudflat to the island.  I remember reading a mystery novel years ago where some fiddling with the clocks caused the victim to be caught by the galloping tides rushing across these mudflats; unable as all are, to outrun the tides, he drowned.   Apparently these folks were paying attention to the tide tables.msmpeopleonsandWe had dinner in the evening in a restaurant on the ramparts near the top of the Mont with a nice view out onto the bay although since service didn’t begin until 7 pm (early for a French dinner) it was soon to dark to take advantage of.  We had heard terrible stories about overpriced lousy food, but we had a reasonably priced and quite tasty  if not spectacular dinner of the sort one can count on anywhere in France.   The tide was coming in and would soon lift these floats.

msmredfloats2msmredfloatAfter dinner and a cold stroll on the ramparts, we hitched a ride on the little navette used to ferry employees and the disabled to the parking lot.  The little bus was virtually empty and it was cold, but this was an enormous mistake since we then missed out on some of the most spectacular views of the Mont at night close up.  Here it is out the back of our bus.

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And here is snapshot from the parking lot.  The pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of Mont St. Michel at night — we stopped a couple of times on our way back to the B&B just to look at it.msmnightview

The next morning, the weather was a bit more promising and we were excited to catch a glimpse out our window.

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Below us, sheep were being ushered out to graze in the salt marshes.  Agneau de pré-salé or salt marsh lamb is a specialty of the area.msmmorningbbsheep

We arrived at the Mont prepared to hike up to see the Abbey before driving on to Bayeux to see the Tapestry.

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We walked up the central tourist gauntlet which as you can see is relatively crowd free on this October morning. msmmainstreetlevel
There is a small church dating from the 15th century that serves the local residents about half way to the Abbey.msmchurchinteriorIt is named for St. Pierre, the patron saint of fishermen.
msmchurchstatueThe last climb to the Abbey is steep.  It was virtually deserted on this cold October morning.
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msmstairs1The Abbey is built on the remains of a romanesque church built over the remains of a Carolinian church.  The first Abbey was built in the 8th century.  Because the Abbey backed the right horse in the Battle of Hastings, it was granted lands in England by William the Conqueror.  Included was an island on which a similar Abbey was constructed and which was called St. Michaels of Penzance.  msmstairsintoabbey

A Romanesque Abbey was constructed in the 11th century but much of it burned during siege in the 12th at which point Philip Augustus who felt guilty that his allies had ruined the Mont, authorized construction of new refectory and cloisters in the Gothic style and there have been a series of further constructions over the years. msmwaterbasin

The tallest towers and spire were added in the 19th century.
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When we got to the great terrace at the top of the hill and outside the Abbey church, we were greeted by this rainbow.
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There is a terrific view of the bay and surrounding islands.msmrainbowMy favorite view of the Mont is across the fields with cattle and goats and sheep grazing in the foreground.  (picture at head of this post)  This is probably my second favorite.  The shadow of the Abbey on the salt flats was stunning.
msmshadowFrom this terrace at the top of our climb, we could enter the Abbey church here.
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What furnishings were originally in the Abbey have been largely stripped out, so most of the visit is through empty corridors and rooms.
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There are occasional chapels or religious artifacts or statues.  This Madonna was carved in the 13th century from limestone found in Caen and polychromed; it was originally in the priory Montois de Ballant.
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msmmadonaThe refectory has a barrel ceiling designed using tools and wood used to construct ships.
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msmchapelsidewallCloisters are usually the high point of any abbey visit and this is definitely true of Mont St. Michel.  Although heavily restored (the original limestone columns were replaced with granite in the 19th century and a garden created then also — before this time, it was not possible to build a garden on a roof of buildings because of water management issue) it is a lovely and inspiring spot.  The shape of the Mont meant that the cloister could not be on the ground at the center, but rather on top of much of the structure.
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msmcloislongshotThere are several original carvings of Christ and one of St. Francis done just two years after his death, but most of the limestone carvings are of a floral design.
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msmcolumndetailThe columns that line the cloisters are done in a doubled gothic style which gives a lacy airy feeling.
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Here and there one’s gaze is distracted from the heavens to the mudflats below as one  makes one’s way through the corridors.
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Once we had seen the church, cloisters and terrace at the top of the Mont, the route took us into the structures below.msmpassstairsmsmpassage msmcirclestairs

Here is a black Madonna placed randomly along the way.
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This giant wheel could accommodate several monks walking to provide energy to live construction materials and necessary supplies up the mountain to the Abbey.
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Here is the chain and track for the transport cars.msmgearlift2Having viewed the Abbey we headed back down to continue our trip.

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I am not sure we would have loved Mont St. Michel in summer since we have a real aversion to crowds but it is a place that lingers in memory.  It doesn’t seem like a real place.  It is the stuff of dreams.msmshadow2

Posted in Medieval Towns, Normandy | 3 Comments

Honfleur — Picture Perfect

honjeharbor There are lots of charming little seaside towns in Normandy and in our whirlwind trip of 5 nights, that began with Mont St. Michel and then proceeded to Bayeux, we wanted at least one of these towns.  I chose Honfleur mostly because I like to say Honfleur (we drink Cremant rather than Champagne for the same reason)  It is as good a reason as any. Honfleur is a lovely little town nestled right where the Seine joins the sea and across the strait from the great harbor of Le Havre.  My  husband was particularly interested in seeing Pont Normandie which is visible from the park along the shore of the town.  We were there two nights and took a day trip on the full day to Etretat which gave us the chance to cross the Pont Normandie and see it up close.  This trip can be viewed here:

http://janettravels.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/etretat-the-impressionists-had-an-eye-for-a-beautiful-place/

From this overlook of the town you can see the Pont Normandie in the distance honparctotownWe booked a small B&B Le Fond de La Cour which was a  bit tricky to find.  The GPS led us through plowed fields and country lanes bringing us into the back of the town and to this street near our B&B.  Finding parking is very tricky as it is in these small towns; the only drawback of this B&B was finding some place for the car.  The owners of the B&B guided us to a restricted parking spot near this spot noting that the old lady whose parking spot it was, had recently died and thus was not parking there anymore and so the spot was free to use.  We didn’t get ticketed or towed.honstreetnearbb The B&B had us in a studio apartment room although we were booked as B&B, which was roomy and pleasant with a kettle and coffee and tea things in the room.  It is a comfortable place to stay.   Le Fond de la Cour: Lovely light bedroom

The weather was drizzly and chilly when we were there so we didn’t make good use of the courtyard or the larger back yard, but I imagine this would be particularly nice  during the summer.   Le Fond de la Cour: Reception courtyard

B&Bs often specialize in lovely breakfasts and the breakfast at Le Fond de la Cour was one of the best we have every had.  This was particularly welcome after our B&B near Mont St. Michel which served croissants in cellophane packages and canned juice. Here is a snapshot from our room into the courtyard at night. honnightgarden Honfleur is a charming town with narrow streets and a largely tourist driven economy.

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We arrived in the early afternoon from Bayeux and walked from the B&B towards the central square.  We found a typical Norman crepe place for lunch.  The little red ceramic cups are used for serving cider.  I have a ‘complete’ galette here.  This is a galette of buckwheat filled with ham, egg and cheese. honcrepes Ed had a seafood galette. honcrepecloseThe narrow streets make car travel difficult.  This woman unloading her car backed up traffic and much honking ensued. honnarrowst After lunch we headed into the town square.  The bell tower of the church of St. Catherine is constructed of ship timbers and like the church was constructed by use of axes rather than sawn timber.  It is some distance away from the church to protect the church from fire in the case of lightening strikes. honbelltower The church feels like an upside down ship since ships construction techniques were used in its construction. honchurchint honchurchintdetail honchurchintdetail2While we were visiting there were a number of children preparing for a pageant of some sort and on display was a sort of  tapestry created by church members to commemorate the most recent confirmation class. honconfirmclass I wondered if the effort had been inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry.hontapestryMuch of the exterior of the church is covered with chestnut shingles called essentes.  This is the view of the back of the church as one walks away from the town square and down towards the harbor.honchurchexterior The harbor is simply stunning and the centerpiece of Honfleur’s tourist trade.  It was once due to its position at the mouth of the Seine, a major trading port.  It was largely ruined during the wars waged around the French Revolution and the blockades that followed. honboats This is the old customs house. honcustoms2 Where once there was a lively trading harbor, today there are tourist oriented restaurants and the yachts of the very rich. honrestaurantshonharbortocustoms The slate faced buildings designed to withstand rough sea weather are characteristic of the area. honslatewallanchor honslatehalftimberI have always loved the look of chimneys and chimney pots in these old towns. honchimney The remains of an old community laundry. honlaundry And who can resist sugar preserved fruits. honcandiedfruit Honfleur is a port for ships that cruise the Seine and we encountered several tour groups from these cruise ships as we strolled about the town. honseinecruise There is a large park along the outlet of the Seine and across from Le Havre. honparklehavre This ship, loaded at Le Havre is leaving for the Pont Normandie to make its way up stream into the Seine. honshipbridge honpontnormandycloseAfter our day at Etretat, we spent our last evening on the waterfront — a beautiful picture day or night. honharbornight2honharbornightWe didn’t have time to see much of Normandy but felt that the choice of Mont St. Michel, Bayeux, the landing beaches, Honfleur and Etretat gave a good taste of some of the most stunning sights in the region. honharbornight3

Posted in Normandy | Leave a comment

Bayeux — Bringing 1066 to Life

bayeuxtapest4I don’t remember all that many historical dates, but one imprinted on my mind,  is 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.  So Bayeux meant a chance to see the Tapestry.  We drove into town mid afternoon and were charmed by the streams, mills and narrow cobbled streets.
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We stayed at the Churchill Hotel an old Bayeux institution.  It is a gracious place with red flocked paper walls covered in memorabilia and photos from the Normandy invasion.  There is a comfortable bar where you can have the local drink called Pommeau which is a mix of cidre and Calvados.  The Churchill runs a day trip to Mont St. Michel in small vans (very popular so if you want to do this book well ahead) and is just around the corner from the Overlord tour stop.  Overlord runs tours to the landing beaches.   We choose an all day tour of the American beaches.

Hotel Churchill: Lobby

Hotel Churchill: Staircase

We were here for two nights and after a night spent at Mont St. Michel.  This gave us a little time to visit the Cathedral and the Tapestry that first afternoon and a day for the World War II sites.  The Cathedral is about 3 blocks from the hotel and a lovely stroll through narrow streets.

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The Cathedral dates from around the time of the Norman Invasion and was originally built by Bishop Odo who is also thought to have commissioned the Tapestry, although that is not certain.  He was a half brother of William the Conqueror and served as Bishop of Bayeux.  It is at this site that Harold is said to have made the oath to William that he would succeed to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor.
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The Cathedral was consecrated in 1077 and built in the Norman romanesque style.  It was rebuilt as a gothic cathedral after damage in the 12th century.
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There were a few intact stained glass windows
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but most were lost in the war and replaced with clear glass.

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This is one of the pillars in the crypt.
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For me the highlight of a visit to Bayeux was a chance to see the Tapestry.    To my surprise, since I knew nothing about it except that it commemorated the Battle of Hastings, it is not a tapestry, but rather a 70 meter long narrow embroidered tableau.  It is less than two feet wide and bordered with a frieze of animals, soldiers; occasionally the action from the main story spills into the border pattern.

This is a fragment just before a scene where Harold and William sit down to parlay and the oath is sworn that will make William king.  Or so William always said.  Apparently Edward passed the kingship to Harold on his death bed and this provoked William to invade and defeat England and seize the throne.  In this period of English history the king was chosen by council and not by primogeniture. 

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As you can see, the story is worked in colored wool yarn on a linen cloth which has darkened over the millennium since it was made.  It was originally displayed in the Cathedral but has had quite a history.  It was nearly lost during the revolution when it was taken as the ‘people’s property’ and used to cover munition wagons.  At one point a town council decided to cut it up and use it to decorate a float for a parade; luckily at each juncture someone stepped up and rescued and preserved it.  For a piece of work this size, nearly a thousand years old, it is remarkably well preserved.  A few feet of its length have been lost and the beginning and ends are heavily restored, but it is for the most part the original work.  And it is remarkably moving.

There are numerous scenes of ships sailing and battles being fought interspersed with the occasional conference of key figures.  It is displayed beautifully and visitors walk the length of the tapestry with an audio guide to pick out the action.  The display and taped narrative is designed to move the crowds quickly along.  Luckily when we were there in late October of 2011, there was no line to get in and few visitors, so it was easy for us to go back to the beginning of the Tapestry and slowly walk aback down looking more closely at the scenes.  Photography is not allowed in the display of the Tapestry and so the snapshots here were taken of reproductions and posters in the museum.

The Bayeux Tapestry is one of those things I have heard about all my life that actually more than lived up to its reputation.  It is worth the trip to Bayeux to just see it.  In the scene below early in the story, Norman soldiers are attacking near Dol and the Breton Duke Conan is escaping down a rope from his castle.   The Normans chase Conan and his minions past Rennes, the Capital of Brittany.

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This is a fragment from the Battle of Hastings where Harold was defeated and killed and William claimed the throne.

bayeuxtapest2We didn’t spend enough time in Bayeux to see all it has to offer, but the chance to spend a day touring the landing beaches, and to realize a long dream to see the Bayeux Tapestry made the stop memorable.  And we enjoyed this final glimpse of the Cathedral at night before heading to Honfleur the next morning.
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Posted in Normandy | 3 Comments

Interesting Paris Churches Off the Beaten Track

archebelltower

Paris is made for the flaneur but I alas am not a very good flaneur.  Aimless wandering is just not it for twitchy me.   I like the metro rather than the buses, because it is fast.  When setting forth I like to be going somewhere.  Back when I backpacked in the Pacific Northwest, my trips were never ‘hike the ridge trail’ but rather ‘hike up to Lake Rachel, make camp and fish for trout.’  I need a destination. And yet Paris is a marvelous city to just stroll and take in the beauty of the parks, buildings, and hidden treasures.

I solve this personal problem by having a goal for what could be aimless wandering.  For example, we have purposefully gone to the end of metro lines to see what was there.  For our adventures exploring the ends of line 3 see

http://janettravels.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/end-of-the-line-3-levallois-to-gallieni/

We have also gone to free concerts, often in churches in various parts of the city and then explored the area.

http://janettravels.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/music-one-key-to-unlocking-paris/

Little known but interesting churches have proved to be promising targets for our wandering and here I am going to share some of my favorite destinations: St. Odile in the 17th;  Notre Dame de l’Arche d’Alliance (our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant) in the 15th; Notre Dame de Lorette in the 9th ; Lazarist Mission Chapel of St. Vincent de Paul  and Chapel of St. Catherine Labourde, both in the 10th; Etienne du Mont in the 5th; Chapelle Notre-Dame de Compassion in the 17th;

Saint Odile.  Saint Odile became a goal as I was out walking around the neighborhood near Malesherbes metro where we were renting an apartment.  I was going to find Sarah Bernhardt’s mice; the mice are about all that is left of her original apartment at 35 Rue Fortuny.Odilemice

I noticed an interesting looking tower not far in the distance and decided I would make that my goal for the walk that afternoon.  It looked to be just a few blocks away — after a mile and a half of wandering later, often losing sight of the tower which required backtracking and peering between buildings, I finally found the place, St. Odile.

The tower of St. Odile is the tallest church steeple in Paris.

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They were having a service, so I could only grab a quick shot from the entry.
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St. Odile was begun in the 1930s as part of many church building projects at this time designed to bring religion to the riff raff at the edges of Paris and to provide work for laborers who were experiencing hard times of the depression. It is just inside the peripherique in the 17th arrondissement. It is a stunning building with noteworthy stained glass and an interesting entry that makes use of the cast concrete technology to create lovely curved forms.  The closest metro is Porte de Champerret.


Notre Dame de-l’Arche de Alliance.  (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant)  Another little visited modern treasure is Notre Dame de-l’ Arche de Alliance located not far from Gare Montparnasse in the 15th arrondissement.  I saw a snapshot of this church on line when helping a friend locate something in the neighborhood on google maps and thought it looked interesting.

We started at Gare Montparnasse and  reached the church walking through neighborhoods of modern apartment buildings.

archestreatonwayThese cyclists are on the street right outside the entrance to the church at81 Rue d’Alleray.

archebicyclesEven at first glance this building is arresting.  Built as an 18 meter cube within a wire net, it looks a bit like an old fashioned jungle gym.

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This is a modern church only completed in 2001.  It was designed and build by the then Archbishop of Paris Cardinal Lustiger, who was a Jew who converted in his youth to Catholicism.  His mother died at Auschwitz; he and his sister were shielded by priests in France and survived the war and he entered the priesthood.  Although rising to a cardinal within the church, he considered himself a Jew and saw Christianity and Judaism as having continuity.  This church echoes old and new testament themes with the double sense of the ark of the covenant:  the ark of Moses and also Mary as the ark of the Christian covenant.

Although the sanctuary seems small, it can seat 350 people in its balconies and main floor.

archenaveThe double theme of the arks is expressed through stained glass windows.  One depicts David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.

archedaviddancesThe glass on the other side of the sanctuary depicts the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth when  John the Baptist leapt in her womb in recognition of the Lord to come carried by Mary.

archevisitationThe geometric forms of the building allow the theme of crosses to be integral to the construction.  The altar of white marble sits below a cross that is projected on the wall with a projector in the choir loft.

archealtarThe ceiling includes an oculus  which admits light into the space and the baptistry is visible through glass tiles on the floor.  

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archeoculusThe church sits on stilts above park and play space for the neighborhood and even on the cool gloomy November day of our visit, there were children enjoying the playground.

archeplayground1archeplayground2Here is a view from the back of the church where the building rises above a hedge of flowers.  archeexteriortowerbackarcheflowersSo many of the more modern churches we have visited in Paris lack character; the Arche de-l’Alliance is an exception.  It is a thrilling and compelling space.


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Notre Dame de Lorette.  Notre Dame de Lorette in the 9th near the metro stop that bears its name is a neoclassic church built during the early 19th century.  It was built on the site of a similarly named church destroyed during the revolution and finished during the reign of the last King of the French Louis-Philipe.

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Like many monumental churches in French towns and cities, Notre Dame de Lorette is jammed into a crowded space that makes it hard to enjoy the heroic lines of the architecture.

lorettesideThe interior of the church is worth a quick look.  Instead of the usual paintings, there are murals painted directly on the walls.

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lorette2For me the thing that makes Notre Dame de Lorette worth the visit, is the view of the church nestled below the hill of Montmartre with Sacre Coeur looming above.

lorettesacrecouer2This is a sight that makes the heart leap up, day or night.

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Lazarist Mission Chapel of St. Vincent de Paul and Church of St. Catherine of the Miraculous Medal.    These two churches are rarely visited by tourists although St. Catherine Laboure is a goal for many pilgrims. They are located not far from the Bon Marche and the Sevres Babylon metro stop and within a block of so of each other.  Without the address and firm commitment to find them they are easy to overlook.

The Lazarist missionary brotherhood of priests was founded to do mission service in poor and rural areas throughout the world.  St. Vincent de Paul created the order in 1624.  He was canonized for his work among the poor by Pope Clement XII in 1737.  The chapel of the Lazarist Mission  is at 95 Rue de Sevres and has an unprepossessing entrance.  It is noteworthy for containing the once incorruptible corpse of St. Vincent de Paul.

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Perhaps the body was once intact and incorruptible but it is now bones, encased within a very lifelike wax effigy.

StThe nave of the church is ornate; it focuses on the loft above the altar that contains the effigy of St. Vincent.  This is reached by steep winding stairs at each side of the altar.

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Along the sides of the chapel the story of St. Vincent’s work is told in a series of stained glass windows.  A visit takes only a few moments and is an interesting spot if you are in the area.

stvincentglassJust around the corner at 140 Rue de Bac is the chapel of Saint Catherine of the Miraculous Medal which is thronged with pilgrims coming to view her incorruptible body and purchase medals that are said to cure the sick.  The outer entry is easily overlooked.

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Once inside the outer door, you are in a long inner courtyard.
stcatherineinnercourt Catherine Laboure was a nursing sister of the Order of Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.  In 1830 she experienced a vision of the Virgin instructing her to have a medal designed that would serve as a token of grace for the faithful.  The design was detailed to her in the vision and after an investigation by the church as to Catherine’s character and sincerity, the medal was struck in 1832 and has been sought after by those suffering illness since that time.  She lived out her life as a nursing sister and her association with the Miraculous Medal was not widely known until her later beatification.  She was canonized in 1947.

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There are shops on the right of the corridor  where Miraculous Medals can be purchased.   There are many sizes and types but many are easily affordable.  I was able to purchase 2 tiny blue enameled medals with rings to put on a chain or charm bracelet for one Euro.   Plain medals like these were even cheaper.

Along the corridor there are plaques of thanksgiving for cures that have occurred as a result of the Miraculous Medal.stcatherinetestimonials I have visited the chapel itself twice and each time, there were many worshippers and services were proceeding so that I could not easily go to the front to observe the display of the incorruptible body of the saint.  Her casket is in front to the left in this picture.

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 St. Etienne du Mont.  St. Etienne du Mont is not off the beaten track; it is just down the street from the Pantheon but many people are not aware that this is the site where Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris waited for his midnight ride to the past.

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Walking up towards the Pantheon from the Luxembourg Gardens, the church stands back about a block and to the left.

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The famous steps where Gill was picked up by the car from the past are around to the left.

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And who knows, maybe if you wait there until Midnight you will hear the bells

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and be able to catch your ride with Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot and Hemingway.  Woody Allen was right; Paris is most beautiful in the rain.

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We never did catch a ride, so we settled on a drink at the bar on the left in that picture. During the summer, this is a terrace on this romantic old street, but on a rainy night in November, the terrace was wrapped up.

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St. Etienne Du Mont is a gorgeous church and well worth a quick visit during daylight hours.

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The church was built on a spot occupied by an Abbey devoted to and containing the relics of St. Genevieve.  It was enlarged and renamed St. Etienne in 1222 and various enlargements and additions were created over the years until the 17th century.  The most noteworthy architectural feature is the magnificent pulpit and rood screen of carved stone.

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The church is said to house the relics of St. Genevieve and in 1997 Pope John Paul II worshipped at her casket.  Since her bones were thrown into the sewers of Paris during the revolution when the holy statues were destroyed (since replaced) and the church itself turned into a ‘Temple of Filial Piety”, I am not quite clear on what is in these reliquaries and casket.

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etiennecasketNotre Dame de Compassion.  This little chapel once stood where the convention center at Porte Maillot was built.  In  1964, Paris authorities disassembled and then reconstructed the chapel a few hundred meters away on a small patch of land overlooking the peripherique — the major ring road that circles Paris — in order to take the land for the convention center.

compasfrontviewIt is a charming spot but its location pretty much guarantees few visitors.  We had wanted to see it but it was locked up when we visited, so we took advantage of a notice of a free saxaphone concert in Pariscope to get a chance to look inside.

The metro stop is Porte Maillot and the exit places one on the axis that links the Grande Arche at La Defense with the Arc de Triomphe.  Both are highly visible when one exits the metro here.

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compasarctriompheThe Chapel is perched right on the edge of the ditch that contains the highway of the peripherique; the railing in this photo separates the small grounds of the chapel from the highway.compasperipherique2compasperipheriqueWe had hoped to enjoy the concert in the charming sanctuary, but alas ended up in the ugly basement.  This is a common occurrence with church concerts.  Those at the Madeleine are held in the sanctuary but we have ended up in a side room at the American Cathedral, and in basement rooms in other churches.compassaxaphone

Before the concert began we did have a chance to visit the chapel itself.  compassionThe Chapel was built in 1842 to commemorate the death of the son of the last King of the French,  Louis-Philippe d’Orléans who was installed as a constitutional monarch after the abdication of Charles X in 1830.  His son Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orleans died in 1842 at Porte Maillot in a carriage accident as he was driving to meet his parents in Neuilly before heading to the field to resume command of his regiment.  He was carried injured to a nearby shop where he died.  He was 32 years old.  The Chapel was erected at the spot where he died.

The building was moved to its present perch above the peripherique in 1964 when the Porte Maillot convention center was built; the center is visible from the new location.compasconvencenterA statue of the fallen prince is featured in the chapel.

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compasstatuecloseThe loss of the crown prince who was exceedingly popular throughout France ended the monarchy as there was little support for its continuation after his death.

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When most tourists think of churches in Paris they think of well known spots like Sacre Coeur, St. Sulpice or the great Cathedral of Notre Dame.  But there are dozens of other churches throughout the city and choosing one to visit is a great way to create a destination for wandering through a new part of town away from tourists and crowds.
xmas13notredame
 
Posted in Paris | 5 Comments

Hey Macarena — No Not the Dance.

macparadelamaccloseMacarena is a section of Seville which houses the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza Macarena or Basilica of Our Lady of Hope Macarena.     The face above is the effigy of La Macarena that graces both the church and is paraded through the street on Good Friday for Seville’s most noted festival. Many women of Seville are named for her  and her image is seen on countless small shrines throughout the city. macshrine2macshrine3

Here she is at the entrance of an elementary school in the district.macschool

We stayed in the Macarena district for a week during our recent trip to Seville.  It is about a mile walk to the Cathedral and central tourist sites, but is convenient to the Alameda Square with its dozen tapas bars.macalameda2

macalamedapuppyWe enjoyed wandering over here, just a couple blocks from our apartment to grab a late snack or a drink. 

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This was the best mojito I have ever had;  Ed was drinking the local vino dulce — a sort of sweet sherry like wine.  We were there in mid-May and were surprised at how uncrowded tourists sites and squares like this one that cater mostly to locals  were.
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We enjoyed the local feel of this district.  macstreetHere is an odd thing we saw several times in Spain.  Balconies appeared to have people (or animals on them) which on closer inspection proved to be cardboard figures.  No idea what that is about.macfauxfiguresmacfauxfig2macpigsNot far from our apartment was the old covered market on Feria Street.  which houses butchers, fish mongers and greengrocers.  We found shopping for food difficult in Seville compared to Italian and French cities.  Good fresh produce was hard to come by and so this market was a welcome sight although the quality was still disappointing.macferia1There were also lovely bars and parks near the apartment.  We discovered this beautiful tiled bar and stopped for coffee on our first stroll to view the Basilica.macbarmacbar2Like many local establishes, La Macarena is in evidence in the tile work here. macbar3lsmacJust past the bar we came to a park and the Parliament of Andalusia which meets in an old 16th century hospital done in the mannerist style. macparcmacparliamentThe Macarena district also holds the last of the great town walls of Seville built during the Almohad Caliphate.  These run next to the Basilica of La Macarena.macwalls1

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macwallcloseThis is the outer gate to the Macarena Basilica.macgate

The Basilica houses the two effigies of La Macarena and of the Christ during the year and the building next door is the museum and offices of the Holy Week Brotherhood who organize the festivities related to celebration of la Macarena.macentranceThe church was built in a rococo style in 1949 which is surprising.  The La Macarena herself dates from the early 17th century.  Here you can see the wooden statue of La Macarena above the altar.macchurchlong

The five emerald broaches worn by La Macarena were donated by a famous bull fighter Joselito El Gallo; when he was killed in the bull ring, the Macarena wore black in morning.maclamacarenaThere is also a wooden figure of Christ who rides on the first Holy Week Float during the Good Friday parade from the Basilica to the Cathedral and back.

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In the museum of the Holy Week Brotherhood the floats are on display as well we many of the artifacts, costumes, flags and other elements of the history of the brotherhood.  La Macarana’s float is an ethereal sight with flowers and candles.  macfloatlamacmacfloatlamaccloseShe wears an elaborate embroidered cape rather like a bishop’s cape which is left on the float; there are several others on display including the elaborate costume of the Christ child who also appears on the float. macfloatlamacbackOn Christ’s Float, Roman legionnaires stand guard.macfloatroman

In another area of the float we can see Pilate washing his hands.
macfloatpilatThere are elaborate scenes carved and gilded around the edges; this is one example. macfloatpassionWe were not there for Easter but I took several snapshots of the video that showed the procession beloved of citizens of Seville.  Here is Christ’s float.macfilmchristMembers of the Holy Week Brotherhood and their families serve in various costumed roles in the parade.  Here are men dressed as Roman soldiers who accompany Christ’s float.  macparadesoldiersWhile the procession of the Basilica of La Macarena is an important part of the festival, it is not the only parade.  Brotherhoods from various districts of the city each with their own floats, bands, and brotherhood members in pointy hatted robes march towards the Cathedral. machoodedparademacparadelamachoodshadow Some of the parades from distant parts of the city take hours before completing the circuit and arriving back at their home church.  The floats themselves are carried by anywhere from 25 to 50 men who hoist these enormous heavy pallets on beams carried on their shoulders.  Since the men are hidden below the embroidered skirts of the floats, the floats appear to glide along the street.macstreets

The museum and film are well worth a look on a visit to Seville.  It is clear from watching the participants, that this is a deeply meaningful experience for them.  Many of the costumed soldiers and brotherhood members were weeping and embracing each other as their duties were completed.  We also saw many of the palms used in Palm Sunday festivities the week before displayed on balconies throughout the city.macpalm1We avoid festivities that involve great crowds.  While we have been to Siena many times, we assiduously avoid being there for the Palio. We have been lucky enough to be there for minor events that lead up the Palio like the drawing for the Contradi allowed to participate and so we have had the chance to observe some of the pageantry without the crowds.   We will never be in Seville at Easter, so it was interesting to be able to visit the Basilica of Macarena just around the corner from the apartment to get a taste of the work of the Holy Week Brotherhood. macsihouette

 

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‘Easter Egg’ In Madrid — Basilica San Francisco el Grande

franciscofromaprtThis is a view of San Francisco el Grande from the balcony of our rental apartment in Madrid.  We spent 5 days in Madrid in May 2013 and for us Madrid was the museum stop on the trip.  We spent 3 of our days at the Thyssen-Bournimisza, the Reina Sofia and the Prado.  For our final day we had intended to head for Toledo, but on this the last day of our 5 week trip to Paris and Spain, we had run out of energy for early morning trains and long climbs to visit Cathedrals — so Toledo will have to wait till we can spend a day or two there on a future trip.  So on our last day, we decided to explore this building we could spot from our balcony.  We had no idea what it was.

The apartment was on Cava Alta in La Latina neighborhood and this led directly into Carrera de San Francisco which led directly to the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande.  Street signs in Madrid are charming tiled plaques with illustrations.

franciscostreetIt turned out to be one of those lovely little Easter eggs one can stumble upon serendipitously when you take the time to explore a new city.  San Francisco el Grande is thought to have built on the ruins of a small convent constructed for a pilgrimage of St. Francis of Assisi to Spain in 1217.  The current structure was built in the later half of the 18th century.  Here is its neoclassic facade as we approached.

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We have visited many churches over the years and I love that sense of discovery when something turns out to be so much more than expected.  I still remember over 50 years ago stepping into the Wieskirche in Bavaria, which is an unprepossessing white barn like structure and being blown away by the florid rococo interior.  I had a similar feeling upon entering this rather stodgy looking building.  The first view is of the gilded walls, and alter with its twin marble pulpits.
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There are lifesize marble statues of the twelve apostles ringing the sanctuary with wood carved statues of prophets above.franciscosideview

And then we looked up.  This stunning dome is the largest in Spain and said to be the 4th largest cathedral dome in the world (although it is a basilica not a cathedral and so is St. Peter’s which is larger). The basilica did serve as Madrid’s Cathedral apparently until the new and much less attractive Cathedral near the royal palace was finished a few years ago.  The dome was painted by Casto Plasencia Mayor.  Simply lovely.
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The paintings above the altar commemorate the life of St. Francis and were done by Manuel Dominquez and Alejandero Ferrant.
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There is a marble pulpit at each side of the main chapel and altar.
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franciscopulpitThe main chapel includes these carved and gilded choir stalls.
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There are half a dozen small chapels that ring the central worship space.  Each is dominated by a large scale painting.
franciscowhitehorseThe Chapel of San Berardino of Siena (not the St. Bernard for whom the dog is named) includes a picture of the saint painted by Goya.  Goya was early in his career and had not yet been named court painter; he painted himself into the picture — the man in the yellow jacket to the right.

franciscogoyaOne can only visit the basilica during mass or in a guided tour which is done in Spanish.  There are corridors filled with paintings in the old convent, but the paintings are not well labeled so although we were told there were paintings by Velasquez and other well known artists we didn’t spot those.  There are also elaborate rooms that included painted ceilings as well as hung paintings.

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franciscoredroom2The tour appears to be continuous, so you can just join up wherever it may be when you arrive and then drop off and leave when you come to your starting place.

A happy surprise and one of the most beautiful churches in Madrid.  We were glad to have followed our curiosity when we spotted it from our balcony.

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