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André Le Nôtre in St Germain-en-Laye…

Ever since Alex posted some photos on her Facebook over a year ago of her walk in the woods of St Germain-en-Laye, Frédéric and I spoke often of visiting it ourself. But alas, all talk, no action…

When Lauren and Danielle started planning for an afternoon out in this western suburb of Paris, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along. We were joined by Anne, Deanna and Lauren’s adorable pup, Daisy. Moreover, with “free” daily transport within Ile-de-France in the summer thanks to the dézonage of Navigo – it is now back to weekends and public holiday only – it would be silly not to take advantage of it.

St Germain-en-Laye

St Germain-en-Laye

A short fortnight later, I found myself hopping back on the RER A towards St Germain-en-Laye, this time with Frédéric and Nicolas in tow. For the second time in as many weeks, I was admiring the beautifully designed garden of the Château of St Germain-en-Laye by André Le Nôtre, principal gardener to King Louis XIV (who was, incidentally, born in St Germain-en-Laye) and the man responsible for raising the bar in the construction of formal French gardens.

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The marais salant of Guérande

I have a thing for the fleur de sel. The “flower of salt” is famously hand-harvested in Guérande, just south of Brittany, although there are other (mechanically collected) productions in Noirmoutier, Île de Ré and Camargue too. Moist to touch and pale silver-grey in colour, this fine salt has such a delicate taste that once you start to use fleur de sel, it’s hard to imagine going back to your average table salt. I couldn’t describe it but know that it doesn’t taste like any other salt in the world.

Guérande

Guérande

Just outside of the historical town of Guérande lies the salt marshes, the marais salant, where the fleur de sel is harvested. A complex series of waterways, including the traicts protected by Le Croisic and Pen Bron, channels the water of the Atlantic Ocean into shallow marshes; the water fills up the basins – also known as vasière – during high tide and is then guided to into the marshes known as the œillets via designated narrow water networks.

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Project 365 – Week 34

Finally, the works in our neighbour’s apartment terminated so no more loud drilling, hammering, and the likes. Sadly, the traffic is also coming back to the city, so one form of noise replaces another. On the plus side, some of our favourite restaurants are/will be re-opening after being away for several weeks, so I’m looking forward to a break in cooking and baking. Ah, such is the ebb of city life. ;)

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Off Gare de l'Est

19 Aug: We are a couple of days away from the full moon, and this is a significant one in the Chinese calendar. According to the Chinese custom, it marks the height of the Hungry Ghost Festival, and if I was still living with my grandparents, they’d be telling me right now not to stay out late so I won’t encounter any roaming spirit. But hey, I live in Paris, the sun doesn’t set in the early summer evening. I also don’t see various festival-associated offerings and rituals performed, so I don’t get spooked quite as much. Instead, I am out with my friends, and we’re all appreciative of just how big the moon seems tonight.

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Views from the sky

Getting a window seat, preferably one which has a wing-free view, is something of a perk when flying. At least to me, it is. And that is how, once, I was treated to the most beautiful view of Paris over sunset (November 2010, Dubai-Paris), including an Eiffel Tower that was sparkling and shimmering away.

I love looking out at take-off and landing. In between, when we’re cruising at a reasonable altitude without cloud cover, everything seems like a miniature toy below. I love watching sunrise and sunset in the horizon, because it’s never like anything that you’ve seen while on the ground. I love imagining just how fluffy some of the clouds can be, especially when they stretch out endlessly. I especially love it when the pilots are nice and decide to play tour guides from time to time and point out where we are flying over at that moment.

Aerial view

Aerial view

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Postcards: Athens and the Acropolis (GR)

I felt a little guilty for treating Athens as a stop-and-go point. This immense and sprawling city was the gateaway to our island escapades, and oh escaping Athens we did. We hopped on a ferry out to Naxos a mere few hours after arrival at the airport, and we’ve set aside only our last day to sightsee the city because, well, we had an early flight the next morning. What I had not predicted was the delay in our overnight ferry back to Athens.

Athens

Athens

As our allocated 24 hours dwindled to about 20 hours, and our very weary bodies refusing to cooperate fully after sitting and waiting cluelessly at the port in Santorini in the middle of the night, we managed to tough it out for 7 hours under the stifling Athenian afternoon sun. We then crashed out. As I didn’t pay enough attention to the information board that I was supposed to be reading, I don’t have much to tell, just pictures to share.

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Project 365 – Week 33

I’ve been working on a bit of a side project in recent weeks, and it’s taking me away from writing this blog as regularly as I’d like to. I don’t explore the city as much either, sticking mostly within my own neighbourhood. At the same time though, a neighbour in the building is doing some renovation work, and the constant drilling and hammering proved to be a nuisance and often breaking my concentration. If only my laptop is not one that requires attachment to the mains all the time, then I could head out somewhere new and work out there at the same time. Wouldn’t that be ideal?

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Lightshow at Disneyland

12 Aug: A couple of weeks ago, Chloé and I went to the Disneyland for a little bit of summer fun. However, the day was long and the heat was getting to us too. We skipped the closing lightshow and fireworks for another evening, i.e. this evening! It was a magnificent show, synchronised to the many catchy tunes, featuring well-loved Disney characters. If only they would start the show a little earlier… Pretty much everyone was good to watch the show by 10.15pm, 10.30pm, even 10.45pm, but no, they held off until 11.00pm. It was starting to get chilly without the warmth of the sun, you know.

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Touring southern Santorini

On the final full day of our stay in Santorini, we decided to culture up a little before we board our Athens-bound ferry which was scheduled at 1.25am. We hopped onto a southern Santorini tour that consisted of a fairly small group – we numbered not more than fifteen, despite travelling in a large coach that could easily fit another twenty or so other people. We were accompanied by good-humoured Francisco, who for some reason, spoke with a bedroom-raspy voice on using a microphone but not otherwise. ;)

Southern Santorini tour

Southern Santorini tour

First up, the highest point on Santorini – Mount Profitis Ilias – which peaks at 567 metres. The road onto the monastery is narrow, windy and rather treacherous given the number of ATV that were trying to do the climb on the shoulder of the road. I wasn’t sure (and still am not) how the driver was not nervous manoeuvering the coach on tight corners, and at one point, we even squeezed by a car with shattered windscreen following an accident with a tourist-handled ATV. The young rider and his friends were all huddled by the road, visibly shaken. It made me glad that we were not driving ourselves!

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Just keep swimmin’, just keep swimmin’…

Given his love of the sea and observation of underwater life, it would be absolutely frustrating for Frédéric had we not check out a few beaches while in Santorini. As for me, I must admit I am totally envious of his level of confidence in just jumping in and swim away from the shore/boat. (The question then is: how is it that I am still so bad at hauling my a** to classes and learn how to swim properly???) In the mean time, I stay in the role of guardian of the bags and I kill time by taking photos and/or reading.

Katharos Beach

Talk about going off the beaten path… On our first morning in Oia, we thought we would head down to Ammoudi Bay but somehow got lost along the way. After about 40 minutes walk, we found ourselves at Katharos Beach, down on a steep dirt path and nestled between high white cliffs. It is technically the closest beach to Oia, since Ammoudi Bay is more of a port right next to the water. There were not many people around on this black pebbled beach (3-4 other couples) so it felt like we were on our own private beach.

Katharos

Katharos

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Project 365 – Week 32

Having two cameras, one dSLR and one PnS, is a good thing. Depending on the situation and the size of the bag I’m carrying, I can opt to bring one or the other, or both. The downside, however, is I’m hitting more or less the same range of image number on both cameras. When it comes to organising them, I had to be very careful not to let any overwriting from happening. My folder system goes by the event name, and photos from both cameras could potentially end up in the same folder. I should reset the count for one of them.

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Cat

5 Aug: This kitty in real life look like a grey fluffy ball, loves to be petted, super duper cute, but for some reason, when I tried to photograph it, it gave me this serious big cat-like look. I guess it didn’t want to appear too adorable, and it was not too adorable indeed when it jumped on me at breakfast table one morning. It went straight onto my lap and leaving some scratch mark even though I tried to lift it up as quickly as I could. See, I was wearing shorts… ouch!

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Postcards: The idyllic village of Oia (GR)

There is no doubt that Oia is high on the touristic scale. Come evening, for the sake of the beautiful sunset, everyone seems to flock to this little northern village of Santorini. The marble-paved streets may see constant footfall throughout the day but in the morning, calm can easily be found, along with foggy vista thanks to the high level of humidity.

I’ll let the 30 photos below show you what the village of Oia is like, in the wispy morning, under the hot afternoon sun, and transitioning between the last lights of the day and the night. [Hover over photo for captions as usual]

The village of Oia

The village of Oia

The village of Oia

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The elephantile cliffs of Étretat

The July heatwave in Paris became unbearable for a bit, so we escaped to Étretat for a change of scenery and cooler fresh air. Oh it was cooler alright, and the water was actually rather cold that even Frédéric who’s normally a big fan of the sea retreated back to shore after a few minutes snorkel. We also had time to walk both the cliffs that flank the village of Étretat and had a picnic along the way. What a lovely getaway from Paris indeed :)

Étretat

Étretat

We started our visit with a walk along the cliff of Amont (la falaise d’Amont), where the smallest of the three natural arches – Porte d’Amont – can be found. From the village, along the sea front, it’s a left turn followed by a set of well-paved stairs to arrive to the foot of the hill that eventually leads to the small chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde.

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Project 365 – Week 31

This week, I discovered that being a translator is probably not a career alternative I should pursue. My friends, in the spirit of keeping things bilingual for their wedding, had asked me to help out with certain tasks (e.g. translating wedding ceremony programme, speeches), and working from English into French, oh dear… I am lucky I have other wonderful friends around me who helped to proofread my translations, and I also roped F into translating some particularly tricky texts. What would I do without them?

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Street art

29 Jul: This piece of street art reminds me of the sculpture of Le Passe-Muraille to commemorate Marcel Aymé that can be found in Montmartre. The main differences? This is on the other side of the wall, thus forming a continuation of sort to the sculpture, and this is a very modern take, for I don’t think hoodie fits into the setting of Aymé’s story. Disclaimer: I don’t know if the artist intended this as an echo to Le Passe-Muraille. Total speculation on my part.

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Postcards: Blue in Oia (GR)

The mere mention of Greece easily conjures up the image of white-washed buildings with blue windows and doors, or blue-domed roofs. Taking advantage of the colour selection mode on my trusty point-and-shoot, here’s my attempt to show you just how well-loved blue (and white) is, especially in the Cyclades.

Blue in Santorini

Blue in Santorini

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Island time(table), Santorini edition

Santorini is not a very big island, and by all accounts, have a good network of public buses that run regularly and budget-friendly in term of ticket prices. To us, this negates the need to rent a car and drive on unfamiliar, narrow and windy roads. The network radiates from Fira, however, thus we would need to travel from Oia to Fira each time for onward bus connection.

Bus timetable

I’ve been advised by friends to make sure we have a copy of the latest bus timetable. We were also, understandably, to know that any time indicated would be approximative. Afterall, there’s no predicting the traffic, right? Like a good trooper, I duly downloaded and printed a copy of the timetable from the bus company’s website.

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