Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Our weekend in Paris

This weekend for Matt's birthday we went to Paris for two nights, arriving late Friday night. and leaving lunch time on Sunday (Matt's birthday). It took under 3 hours to get there by car. We stayed in a good hotel in Montmartre (the highest hill in Paris) near the Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge.

Friday night we stayed near the hotel and went out for a few (expensive) drinks. In most of the places we went to in Paris a 50cl of beer was €8! Wine was fairly reasonable so we mostly stuck to that.

As it was our first time in Paris as adults we visited all of the touristy attractions on Saturday. We started off at the Abbesses Metro station in Montmartre (above). This Art Nouveau station has one of the only two remaining original Hector Guimard metro entrances in Paris.

We walked along the River Seine to the Eiffel Tower, passing Pont Alexandre III, one of the most ornate bridges complete with Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, and nymphs, linking Place Des Le Invalides and Le Grand Palais.

We had an early lunch picnic under the Eiffel Tower (provided free by the hotel - great idea)! We would have liked to have gone up the Eiffel Tower but pre-booked tickets had sold up, and it would have taken up a lot of our one day of sightseeing so we decided to give it a miss this time. It was lovely weather so we were happy to sit on the grass in front of the Tower. We found a quiet spot away from the hawkers and the deaf/mute girls who want money (yet somehow they could talk to each other when they thought no-one was listening). Not sure whether the army guys walking around with guns made us feel uneasy or safe.

On the way to the Arc De Triomphe we wandered through the Photoquai Exhibition which was next to the river, part of the Musee du Quai Branly. It's aim is to give non-Western photography a chance and compare points of view. We would have liked to have seen more of the exhibition rather than just the displays out by the river, but we didn't think we could fit it in to our day.

We noticed that someone has their house underneath the exhibition....

We unintentionally wandered past the Statue of Liberty Flame, which was offered to Paris in 1989 and is an exact replica of the flame carried by the Statue of Liberty. It's situated above the tunnel where Princess Diana died so the area has now become a sort of shrine to Diana.

Finally we made it to the Arc De Triomphe after spending ages trying to find the subway to get us to the middle of the 'no-rules' roundabout.

The views from the top were amazing! It was interesting to see that people had proper gardens with woods on top of their buildings.

We then briefly visited Notre Dame but decided not to go inside and went for our first beer of the day instead.

Our final destination of the day was the Sacre Coeur (the white church) on top of Montmartre Hill.

The views from the top of the hill were pretty impressive. We looked around inside but only briefly. Due to the number of people we found that we were herded around quickly.

We saw this sign near the sacre Coeur:

We walked back to the hotel which was nearby and caught the end of some carnival with music.

In the evening we went our for a meal somewhere near Montmartre. It's very difficult to find anywhere that does a decent vegetarian meal. We ended up at an Italian called Victoria Station which imitates an old fashioned train carriage. Sounds tacky but it was actually quite cosy. We watched the pizzas being made, the service was good, and we weren't paying a fortune for a simple meal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Autoloze Zondag 2011

Last Sunday was Autoloze Zondag which means 'car-free Sunday'. Bruges was one of the 33 cities/municipalities in Flanders taking part.

From 10am until 6pm cars were technically not allowed to travel within the city gates, although I'm not sure how easy this was to control. We did see one or two cars. There were events all day throughout the city, such as bands playing in the Markt, childrens entertainment in the Burg, an orchestra at the Vismarkt (fish market), free bike check-ups at 'T Zand, and Argentinian Tango at Simon Stevinplein. Around 40,000 attended the events.

We took a wander down Langstraat where there were lots of stalls selling various things.

Then we sat in the Markt for a bit listening to music before ending up in Valmingstraat listening to some jazz.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

De Halve Maan Brewery

A few weeks ago we went on the Da Halve Maan Brewery tour with Iain and Eleri, which is a working brewery brewing Brugse Zot (which means Bruges Fool), a popular beer here in Bruges, and Straffe Hendrik beer.

We visited on a Sunday so the machines were turned off, but I think during the week you can visit when the they are actually brewing beer. Our guide took us around the brewery explaining the history.

We were taken to the roof of the brewery where we had panoramic views of the city.

Then at the end we went to the brewery bar where we had a free glass of Brugse Zot. And as it started to rain outside we had to stay for a few more.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our New Car

This is not the most exciting thing to read about but are so pleased to finally have a Belgian car. We spent ages looking at cars, driving all over Flanders including some very dodgy-looking areas of Brussels. Eventually one of Matt's friends was selling the car we wanted, a Renault Megane Scenic, which was good as we were worried about someone taking advantage of us not knowing the language or the (very long) process. First the seller had to provide us with a bit of paper saying that the car had passed Technische Controle, then we had to go and organise the insurance, then once we had evidence of insurance we had to go to Oostende to order the car plates (plates are owner specific, not car), then we had to wait for one plate to arrive in the post before going back to Oostende to get the second plate. Then finally we could have the car.

Of course we want to distinguish ourselves from the crazy Belgian drivers so a Union Jack sticker will be going onto the back of our car. See this article which sums up Belgian driving.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Picasso Exhibition

"Give me a museum and I'll fill it" - Pablo Picasso

After we went to the Dali exhibition we visited the Pablo Picasso exhibition, featuring other artists such as Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Georges Braque and Joan MirĂ³.

It is a permament exhibition based at the Oud Sint-Jan hospital. It is an interesting building connected by bridges and offering great views of the area including the Church Of Our Lady.

There are about 150 engravings, drawings, lithographs, and ceramics showing the artisic evolution of Picasso.

Picasso's first Dove of Peace was chosen as the emblem for the First International Peace Conference in Paris in 1949. It was a picture of a pigeon which had been given to him by his great friend and rival, the French artist Henri Matisse.

He did a poster for the National Congress of the Peace Movement.

There is also a temporary exhibition at the site showing work by Henri Matisse.

We didn't see much of Miro's work in the exhibition, but we found prints in the shop.

Overall a very good exhibition. There were lots of explanations of the artists' lives, and their influences. Whilst the two exhibitions (Dali and Picasso) were very different, we found the Dali to be more inspiring. You could stand and stare at a Dali for a while and keep coming back to it after having seen another piece and it would cast a new light on the image. Whereas with Picasso, you could clearly see a development within his artisitic life and the image you were looking at seemed to summarise that era.