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Tricolour by nightfall

Life slowly returns to the norm. After a weekend glued to the news feed and radio and what’s not, Monday was yet another day at work and we went about our days as usual. There are raids taking place all over the country and just this morning, a pretty massive operation took place just north of Paris which took out a few more persons who had intended to cause more harm if they had been able to. Some undoubtedly feel unsafe to wander the streets at the moment, others less so, because we don’t want to live our lives dictated by fear.

French tricolour

French tricolour

The French tricolours are on display everywhere. There’s something oddly soothing in seeing these symbolic colours at public spaces, a reminder of solidarity and that we are going to weather this turbulent time together, emerging with resilient spirits. These past few days have seen the motto of Paris – “Fluctuat nec mergitur”, tossed by the waves but does not sink – being evoked time and time again. How apt.

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Autumnal colours

Shades of crimson and golden and the hues in between… they are exquisitely beautiful and yet, I am not photographing enough of Paris in its autumn colours. I could think of many spots which I should go but I am paralysed by an inertia anchored by a strange lethargy that I couldn’t quite put my fingers on. With some encouragement from F, we went out for a stroll, breathing in the crisp, chilled air of a November evening.

Autumnal

Autumnal

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A new life for Musée de l’Homme

I never knew Musée de l’Homme in its past incarnation. For as long as I can remember – well, six years apparently – it has been closed for renovation. Unbeknownst to me, I have actually seen a good portion of its (former) collection of Asian, African, American and Oceanian ethnography appropriated to fill the legacy project of a certain Monsieur Chirac. How lucky for Musée du Quai Branly and what uncertain time it left Musée de l’Homme, as its European ethnographic collection was also packed away to Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM) in Marseille.

Musée de l'Homme

Musée de l'Homme

From emptying corridors came opportunity to change its mission. Musée de l’Homme evolved and is making a come back with fresh look and a restart. Housed within Palais de Chaillot, I need not have to emphasise what great view it has of the Eiffel Tower, do I? Thanks to my friend Céline, F and I got a sneak peak of it today before the museum opens its door to the public on Saturday, 17 October, and for the first three days, entry to the museum will be free.

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Hidden Paris: Passage Bourg l’Abbé to Passage du Grand Cerf

I prowled around the passages couverts from time to time but clearly I haven’t explored enough of them. In the 2ème, between rue de Palestro and rue Dussoubs, lies two passages briefly-separated by rue Saint-Denis: Passage Bourg l’Abbé and Passage du Grand Cerf. Built just three years apart in early 19th century, they have been well-preserved and a delight to visit.

Passages

Passages

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Postcards: Morlaix (FR)

I had not thought, when we left for our weekend in Brittany, that we would ended up in Morlaix, even if just for a couple of hours. It is one of those small French town that I’ve heard of but never really curious enough to Google, never mind planning a visit. Still, since we have to go through the area on our way back to Brest from Saint Samson anyway, why not take a look, right?

Morlaix

Morlaix

This medieval town certainly looks the part. Cobblestone streets, winding alleys, steep stairs, brightly-painted half-timbered houses, old churches and a viaduct all come together to form a picturesque historic centre amidst the often grey Breton skies. I also learned that its port was once of great importance, given the pirates were busy raiding from here, not to mention there were bustling linen and tobacco trades going. There are some rather distinguished buildings lining the port area.

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Fort du Dellec to Pointe du Petit Minou

It is a given that I cannot head to Brittany without my runners or hiking boots in the bag. F and his buddy C are always looking for trails they can walk, and there are certainly plenty of them around Brest and its environs. Admittedly, I quite like these picturesque chemins côtiers too, it’s just that I’m often trailing behind them because (1) I stop all the time to take photos, and (2) the boys have longer steps that my short legs can’t quite catch up with.

Dellec to Minou

Dellec to Minou

The trail from the Fort du Dellec to the Pointe du Petit Minou (how cute are the names?) is a relatively short one compared to most that we do. It take about two hours to do a return trip, and C often even jogs here. If there is such a lovely jogging space nearer to our place, perhaps I could be motivated to run more often too. Or not. :p

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Weekender: Mont St Michel

F and I were up at an ungodly hour – or what felt like it, since I got home near 1am after a week of work trip away – yesterday morning to kick start our long weekend trip in Brittany. The train from Gare Montparnasse took us to Dol-de-Bretagne in just under 3 hours, and a time-coordinated bus was waiting outside the train station (slightly to the right) to take us to Mont St Michel in 30 minutes.

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

On arrival, we headed to the visitors’ information centre, where free lockers are available for safe-guarding our main luggage for the trip and relieved us from having to drag it everywhere with us. A 1-euro coin will do the trick in locking up the door, which you can retrieve when you return the key later on. Time to make our way to the famous abbey-and-fortress-on-a-large-rock, and we opted for a walk instead of queuing up for the free shuttle; anyone feeling fancy could take a horse-powered carriage!

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Postcards: Panthéon Paris (FR)

As a mausoleum goes, the Panthéon is a gorgeous one. Recently, four heroes and heroines of the Resistance were newly interred by the President of the Republic – although two of them were symbolic interments – and as part of the celebration, the Panthéon was free to visit over a few days. We took advantage of it to visit the building itself, rather than jostling through the long queues at the crypt.

Panthéon

Panthéon

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Postcards: Saint Étienne du Mont (FR)

Despite my propensity to peek into churches, big or small, as I come across them, for some reason, I have never stepped into the Saint Étienne du Mont. Semi-hidden in the shadow of the Panthéon, the church, or rather its steps, is becoming pretty well-known after Gil set off in vintage car for his adventures in Midnight in Paris. Shall we pop over for a quick visit?

Saint Étienne du Mont

Saint Étienne du Mont

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Randomly: Spring

It’s late April. Bar the blooming magnolias, cherry blossoms and daffodils, there hasn’t been quite as much splashes of colour as I’d come to expect at this time of the year. Even many trees are still fairly bare despite the relatively mild weather. It seems the longer I live in Europe, the harder time I have in deciphering the changing season. Or is my memory too kind to the past?

Spring in Paris

Spring in Paris

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Berges de Seine

It was a sunny midweek afternoon, my friends and I had had a good lunch at Ellsworth and we were in no hurry to get anywhere. As we strolled and chatted, we found ourselves heading for the Berges de Seine, which serves as riverbank walk, public space, exhibition hall, outdoor gym, patio-ed restaurants and games room, all rolled into one.

Berges de Seine

Berges de Seine

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Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration

What is the common denominator between an immigrant, an expatriate, a foreigner, an alien and a non-citizen? Me. And countless others like me. We who fit the aforementioned, albeit with situations that vary in thousand shades of paperwork grade. Time and time again, the debate, in particular the pitting of an immigrant against an expatriate, can be painfully divisive. Just search for “immigrant vs expat” and you’ll see all kind of perception attached to these words, of social standing, origin, wealth, skin colour, intention. The fight is ugly.

Museum of Immigration History

Museum of Immigration History

The topic of immigration is a sensitive one and the question of integration has been contentiously thrashed out, in public and in private alike. At times of economic hardship, the subject is paraded – not only in France, mind – like an evil which must be stopped (UKIP’s Nigel Farage would like everyone to go back to where they came from, thank you very much) and the rhetorics filled with “selected truths”. My visit over the weekend to the Musée de l’Histoire de l’Immigration (i.e. Museum of Immigration History) was therefore an interesting one, one where I get to explore briefly the stories of the people who make France the nation it is today.

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Trolling Fox (Faux) News

Life in Paris – and France – is gradually returning to the norm in the aftermath of the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. In this past week, enormous queues had been spotted all over Paris at newsstands, everyone eager to get their hands on a copy of the survival issue of Charlie Hebdo, currently printed at a phenomenon number (5 million copies!) and being doled out to the newsstands like ration during tough times. The first mornings, they sold out rapidly and disappointed folks were told to return the next day after they were restocked.

Charlie Hebdo

I found myself standing in a queue on the third morning, fulfilling a request that came from abroad just the previous evening, and snagged the third last copy at my local newsstand. Not that I read it though; we had never read Charlie Hebdo before and were not particularly pushed in starting anyway. The copy got duly posted away and I hope it won’t disappear in transit. Anyway, this is less interesting than the skirmish between Le Petit Journal and Fox Faux News.

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Feasting on galettes des rois

January can only mean one thing in our household – it’s open season for galette des rois! It seems the limited time availability only fueled my hunger for more, so this addiction is unlikely to go away anytime soon. However, after two seasons of buying small/single portion galette des rois on a nearly daily basis, this year, a change of strategy. We would buy only at the weekends, and fancy galettes des rois are on the table. * happy dance *

Galette des rois

A whopping eight galettes des rois had came through our door so far. Well, we started early this year, over the New Year’s long weekend, before Epiphany officially kicked off. It made sense since C&M were staying with us and C loves them as much as I do! We’ve largely stuck to one galette des rois per weekend-day rule, except yesterday when we had a small tasting party with friends; three galettes des rois were served and today we’re having none. It was a “sacrifice” I’d gladly make because it’s a lot more fun to share them :)

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Fondation Louis Vuitton

When you are wealthy and could dictate the kind of legacy that will bear your (brand) name, why not hire Frank Gehry to build a museum with unique vessel-like architecture in the splendid setting of the Bois de Boulogne?

Fondation Louis Vuitton, opened with great fanfare and ticket giveaways last weekend, will house art works from Bernard Arnault’s personal collection as well as those owned by the LVMH group. In return for the permission to erect this monumental building, its ownership will be transferred to the city of Paris in 55 years.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton

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Parisian autumn

A crispy autumn day is perfect for exploring Paris. The natural light is softer, the colours of the leaves brighter. It is neither too warm nor too chilly to remain outside. There is a certain spring to the step, so to speak. Last weekend, we retraced the route from our apartment to Montsouris.

Paris

Paris

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Hidden Paris: A walk in the 16ème

Still trying to keep the homebody syndrome at bay, F and I cycled across Pont de Grenelle into the 16th arrondissement over the weekend, nodded hello to the Lady Liberty in passing, and intent on exploring the petite ceinture sort of adjacent to the Jardin du Ranelagh/Bois de Boulogne. This stretch opened a good few years ago, in 2007, thus predates the one in the 15ème which we visited recently.

A walk in the 16ème

A walk in the 16ème

Passing by many elegant buildings in this affluent neighbourhood, we finally spotted an entry into the former railway belt near La Muette and slipped through the low gates that are characteristics of many entrances to Parisian parks and gardens. Had it not been for the sign we saw just a minute ago, we would not have guessed that this was where the trains used to pass. Unlike the petite ceinture in the 15ème, nary a sign of abandoned rail track could be found here. They had been dismantled.

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La Petite Ceinture of 15ème

It could be the weather, it could be work, it could be a combination of multiple things. Whatever the underlying causes, I’m more a homebody lately than the overly perky urban explorer that I could be. Luckily, F wouldn’t let me languish about at home for more than what’s healthy, and we’d end up taking some short walks somewhere around town. A couple of weekends ago, we explored a small portion of the old railway belt of Paris, called La Petite Ceinture, in the neighbourhood.

La Petite Ceinture

La Petite Ceinture

Parts of the disused railway line, which once encircled Paris in its entirety, are now officially open to public for walks and jogs, although a large part of it remains out of bound – not that it deters the most ardent urban adventurers from accessing and actually enjoying beautifully wild paths in Paris that tempts me to follow their footsteps at some point!

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Hiking Camaret-sur-Mer

We woke up on a Saturday morning to reasonable cloud cover but looked set to hold steadily. After a quick trip to the supermarket nearby to get our picnic supplies, we headed south-west of Brest to Camaret-sur-Mer. A 4.5-hours hike around this part of Crozon peninsula was our activity of the day. That, and getting back to Brest in time for a lovely dinner at a super sushi restaurant in town. This is how every excursion should be planned; something active, followed by something delicious as a reward for the hard work put in. ;)

Camaret

Camaret

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Postcards: Sun, sea, sand in Bretagne Nord (FR)

We were back in Brittany, greeted by sunshine and what promised to be quite an active weekend. Because it was (sort of) summer, we were obviously obliged to go to the beach. We checked out a couple of them: one where the boys attempted to surf – C picked up this new hobby while in Brazil, and F was trying it out for the first time – in the rather chilly water of less than 20°C (brrrrr!), and one where I put on my baby step to swimming in the ocean, ahead of our vacation in Montenegro.

Bretagne Nord

Bretagne Nord

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Postcards: Piriac-sur-Mer (FR)

We may soon be running out of interesting and new places to visit in the vicinity of F’s hometown. Each time we travel east to my in-laws’, we’ve always borrow one of their cars on one of the afternoons and explore places within an hour or less of driving time. The distance that we’re stretching, however, is getting longer and longer. We may have to start doing day trips rather than an afternoon away…

Piriac-sur-Mer

Piriac-sur-Mer

Our most recent trip to the hometown saw us driving out along the coastline and sought out Piriac-sur-Mer, a quaint village on the peninsular of Guérande. The centre of the village is pedestrianised, making it very pleasant to visit on foot, down along the main streets and continue along the sea wall, past the parked boats and yachts, and a well-loved merry-go-round which (sadly) danced to the tunes of the 80s.

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Postcards: Chambéry (FR)

We had two hours to kill after returning our Vélonecy bikes following a day of bike-about Lake Annecy and retrieving our bags from Marc’s cellar. With tickets back to Paris via Chambéry, when we spotted a regional train due to leave for Chambéry pretty much right away, we did not hesitate jumping on it. That should give us time to quickly explore the historical capital of Savoy, buy something for dinner, and grab the capital-bound TGV.

Chambéry

Chambéry

Located in a valley surrounded by mountains, the medieval section of the town is within a short walk away from the train station. It is compact and can be easily visited on foot within an hour or two. The many heraldry-based flags hung conferred an atmosphere of the past, and I was half-expecting some knights to ride down the streets in armours and all set to joust each other! It was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday evening when we were there, with few people and even less traffic around.

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Biking around Lake Annecy

Final day in Annecy came around far too quickly, but like any good troopers, we made the most of it. After checking out and depositing our backpack into Marc’s cellar to be retrieved later (it is somewhat inconvenient that the train station does not have a locker facility), we went over to the office of Vélonecy to take out a couple of their chainless yet 7 speed-equipped Classique urban bikes. As we travelled to Annecy by train, our SNCF tickets scored us the equivalent of local resident’s rate of €5 per day.

Biking Lake Annecy

Biking Lake Annecy

Our plan was to cycle the entire lake, having seen good bike lanes stretching to the villages next to Annecy. When we mentioned this to Marc and Marie, they assured us that this would be very doable, but with a small caveat – there will be a stretch where we would be on the road with the rest of the traffic without the benefit of bike lanes. Undeterred, we went ahead with this excursion.

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Lunch at La Ciboulette

The rain just wouldn’t let up. We were supposed to roam the famous market that lined the streets of the old town and canals of Annecy, but we ended up staying in for a grasse mat’ and read in bed. Eventually, we had to brave the weather and headed out, since we had a lunch reservation at La Ciboulette. We took the long way round so we could at least catch a glimpse of the market.

La Ciboulette, Annecy

La Ciboulette, Annecy

Slightly drenched after our walk, we stepped into a visibly posh restaurant with opulent interior, charming paintings, antique decorative pieces, and actual silver salt-and-pepper shakers and butter dish awaited us at the table which we were assigned. The couple at our neighbouring table were clearly in celebratory mood: a bottle of champagne with two long-stem flutes had just been brought over by the sommelier.

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Hiking the Annecy-Sévrier way

Morning of Day 2 in Annecy, we woke up early to be greeted by grey sky and drizzles, but undeterred, we put on our walking gear and headed in the direction of Semnoz. Based on direction given to us by Marc, the Église de la Visitation was our key landmark, and continuing along the avenue de la Visitation, we came to the starting point of our intended hike.

Hiking Annecy-Sévrier

Hiking Annecy-Sévrier

Multiple options of varying distance were available and we opted for a 3.5 hours (blue) circuit, figuring that’d get us back in Annecy for a late lunch. If we’d wanted a route with higher elevation, the 2.5 hours (red) circuit would be ideal, but Marc warned us that with recent rainfall, it may be just a tad too slippery without hiking sticks to aid us.

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20/Vins: more like 12/20

A couple of days prior to our departure to Annecy, I was in a small panic. The couple of restaurants I’ve researched on and tried to reserve tables for were closed for the week when we would be in town, and compounded with the presence of the labour day bank holiday, I needed new alternatives quickly. I looked into Gault & Millau and was happy to find a highly recommended restaurant (5 toques!) in the historic centre with a clever name to boot.

Wine bar

Wine bar

20/Vins is a play on the perfect score of 20/20 within the French system and the word wine. It is primarily a wine bar, but hey, coupled with delicious food, we’ve got a winner on hand, no? I guess that would be too good to be true. Our Airbnb hosts had never heard of this place, and Marc has experience in the wine industry, even if his main business focus is on Sino-Franco business-relationship consultancy…

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A very picturesque Annecy

As soon as we stood across the Palais de l’Isle, I semi-regretted my decision to travel ultra-light in the photography gear department. With only a 40 mm fix lens, there was no way I could fit the frame to capture what I wanted. On the other hand, it means I ought to take on the challenge and work with what I have. Get creative, so to speak.

Annecy

Annecy

A former capital of the County of Geneva, Annecy is today one of the most expensive cities to live in (pricing comparable to major French cities) despite its village feel. This is perhaps unsurprising, given its abundance of charm and natural setting, yet blessed with quick and direct access to economically-affluent cities such as Geneva and Paris. Should one wishes to gain a wee bit more privacy and away from tourists’ path, there are several other towns around the lake as alternatives.

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Lake Annecy

Ahead of my starting a new job this week, F and I decided to take a short trip to Annecy. It has been on our to-visit list for a while now, each time intending to travel in the summer but we always, somehow, ended up elsewhere. Figuring this would be as good a time as others, we bought a pair of last minute train tickets and off we went. We’re living the moment :)

Lake Annecy

Lake Annecy

What a relaxing yet active four days that we had, despite the less-than-sunny weather that we encountered. Whenever the sun escaped from the cloud cover and shone brightly, we couldn’t help but sighed with contentment. F would certainly need no further encouragement to move here immediately should an opportunity to do so arises!

Each day, without fail, we would walk along the lake, stopping every few meters and feasted the grandeur with our eyes. The ever changing lights of the sky, the simmering lake with its crystal clear water, the white-dusted hill tops from fresh snow gathering at the summits, and afar, the adventurous souls paragliding above the lake. We’ve walked from Annecy to both villages on its left (Annecy-le-Vieux) and right (Sévrier), and back, loving every (windy) minutes of it.

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Hidden Paris: Square de Montsouris

On our way towards Parc Montsouris and Cité U recently, F and I traversed avenue Reille into a small street just off the Réservoirs de Montsouris. We entered what could only be described as the most beautiful Parisian countryside. Don’t get me wrong; there are other charming places within Paris, including Villa Santos-Dumont and the Thermopyles, but neither rivalled the exquisite Square de Montsouris. (We’ll explore the few other luscious streets nearby another time.)

Square de Montsouris

Square de Montsouris

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A Sunday in St Germain-en-Laye

With a blink of an eye, it has been three months since F and I moved into our current place, located on a small street, on the first floor, and with a vis-à-vis. We are settling in well, and while I continue to add little touches here and there to make it more home-y, we do miss our former bright and luminous fourth-floor open-view apartment near Montparnasse. For a want of some sense of (natural and green) space, we escaped to St Germain-en-Laye on Sunday afternoon.

St Germain-en-Laye

St Germain-en-Laye

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