Michael Smit

Joined May 2017Living in: Cabarita, Australia
  • Day17

    Paris - Day 17

    July 16, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    This morning we went on a morning city tour of Paris by bus with a local expert. The first stop was the Place de la Concorde, which we had visited earlier in the week, but today it was still being packed and cleaned up after the Bastille Day celebrations.

    The next stop was the Jardins du Trocadero outside of the Palais de Chaillot for an iconic view of the Eiffel Tower across the river.

    After this we were taken to the Esplanade des Invalides in front of the Hotel des Invalides for a tour group photo. This building was built in the 1670s to provide housing for infirm veterans returning from war. Today it houses a military museum and underneath it is the final resting place of Napoleon, the man many French people consider to be the nation’s greatest hero.

    We then headed to Montmartre, the bohemian quarter of Paris, for a walking tour, commencing outside the red windmill, Moulin Rouge.

    We stopped at Le Bateau Lavoir, where the artists Modigliani, Picasso, Kees Van Dongen and Max Jacob lived in an old piano factory.

    We visited a house (in rue d’Orchampt) and heard the tragic story of Dalida, one of France’s most successful and famous singers. Born as Yolanda Gigliotti to Italian parents in Egypt she took on Dalida as her stage name and had a career spanning 30 years from 1956 to 1986. Four men in her life committed suicide, and in 1987 she took her own life, leaving a note saying "Life is unbearable for me...Forgive me." Following her death, a square was dedicated to her (Place Dalida) with a bust of her on a pedestal which we also visited.

    We passed Clos Montmartre, a tiny vineyard that produces around 800 bottles of wine a year, which are auctioned off for charity in October.

    We next visited the Basilique de Sacre Couer (the basilica of the Sacred Heart), which was built to atone for the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) but not consecrated until 1919. Our guide took us around the rear of the basilica for a unique view away from all the tourists.

    The guide told us that many of today’s inhabitants of Montmartre are known as bobos, which stands for bourgeois bohemians. Bobos are people who make a lot of money but who pretend to live the philosopher’s life.

    Later in the day we took an evening cruise on the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and back, after which we ascended the Eiffel Tower to the second level for a stunning night view of the City of Lights.

    All in all a pretty full day!
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  • Day16

    Paris - Day 16

    July 15, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    We bid farewell this morning to our hotel for the last 6 nights, the Hotel du Jeu de Paume, on the Isle of St Louis. A small but very pleasant and well located hotel.

    We travelled to Bercy, in the south eastern part of Paris, and checked into our hotel for the next three nights, the Pullman Hotel Paris Bercy to join our tour of Southern France.

    The hotel was located very close to Bercy Village, a strip of offbeat designer shops, bars and restaurants in buildings that were converted from former wine stores. We looked around the shops and had lunch in one of the restaurants.

    In the evening we met the tour guide, Emmanuelle, and our fellow tour members in the hotel bar and afterwards had a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant in the village. The tour group were mostly Americans, with a few Australians and South Africans.
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  • Day15

    Paris - Day 15

    July 14, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Breakfast again with the singing waiter at Café St Regis, after which we headed towards the Champs Elysees as it was Bastille Day, the French National Day, and we thought that we would try and catch the military parade.

    We walked on the southern bank of the Seine, past Notre Dame and on through St Germain des Pres and the Musee d’Orsay, and past Pont Alexandre III and the Hotel des Invalides, crossing Pont des Invalides to head north to the Champs Elysees.

    By the time we got there the parade had started and we were quite a distance from the parade behind a crowd of Parisians. We couldn’t see much of the marchers, except for those whose uniforms had feathers on their helmets!

    We had a much better view of the dazzling display of French military superiority, when the horses and military vehicles (tanks and jeeps and transports and trucks) clattered and rumbled by. Not to mention the flyovers of helicopters and jet aircraft, both big and small.

    Afterwards we went to the Louvre, along with many others, as entry is free on Bastille Day. We looked through the exhibits of ancient Middle Eastern art, admiring the Code of Hammurabi and the winged bulls of ancient Iraq, before visiting some of the galleries of statues and paintings. We were particularly keen to see some of the works of Spanish artists that we had seen in Madrid’s Prado Museum.
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  • Day14

    Paris - Day 14

    July 13, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    We started our fourth day in Paris with a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral, a 14th century Gothic wonder. The interior is 130m long, 48m wide and 35m high and can accommodate more than 6,000 worshippers. its most exceptional features are the three spectacular rose windows, particularly the 10m wide one over the western façade above the 7,800 pipe organ.

    Later we strolled along Rue St Honore, where we came upon Place Vendome, a large octagonal place with a 43.5m tall column in its centre. The column is made up of a stone core wrapped in a 160m long bronze spiral made from hundreds of Austrian and Russian cannons captured by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. The statue way up on top shows Napoleon in classical Roman dress (as might befit an emperor!).

    We arrived in the Place de la Madeleine and decided to have lunch at the café of Fauchon, a famous shop selling fine food and beautiful cakes. We had a lovely prawn and mango salad and a saffron risotto followed by a beautiful chocolate based dessert.

    After some shopping and further wandering through the boulevards, we headed towards the river again to see what Paris Plages activities were going on. We heard some music playing and discovered a bunch of people happily dancing on a wooden platform beside the river.
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  • Day13

    Paris - Day 13

    July 12, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 20 °C

    On this day we caught a train out to Versailles to visit Chateau Versailles, the political capitol and seat of the royal court from 1682 until the fateful events of 1789. In that year, revolutionaries massacred the palace guard and dragged Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette back to Paris, where they were ingloriously guillotined.

    This place was magnificent and photos can only give some idea of the scale and over the top opulence of the buildings and the expansive gardens.

    We started our tour by going through the rooms of Louis XIV, providing a broad overview of the 17th century, the King, his family, and the Court.

    This was followed by the State Apartments, the ceremonial apartments of the Kings of France at the heart of the palace and the life of the Court. This included the Hall of Mirrors.

    We finished up in the Gallery of Battles, with some 30 huge paintings depicting various historic French battles.

    We walked past Latona’s Fountain and Partierre, down the Great Lawn past the gardens and hidden groves to the Grand Canal and then onto the Petit Trianon.

    This small palace retreat was originally built for the private use of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in 1768, but was given to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI in 1774 and it became her favourite place.

    On the way back though the gardens to the main palace, we stopped at a garden side café for tea and coffee and crepes.
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  • Day12

    Paris - Day 12

    July 11, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    After another pleasant breakfast at Café St Regis, we headed out for another day of walking the streets of beautiful Paris.

    Today we began with a stroll along the length of the Rue de Rivoli, passing the Hotel de Ville, the Musee de Louvre, and the Jardin des Tuileries.

    We arrived at the Place de la Concorde to find that there were some road closures and lots of activity and French flags, all part of the preparations for the French National Day, often referred to as Bastille Day.

    The Place de la Concorde has at its centre a 3,300 year old pink granite obelisk with a gilded top that once stood in the Temple of Ramses at Thebes and was given to France in 1831 by the viceroy and pasha of Egypt, Muhammad Ali.

    We continued along the flag-lined Champs Elysees past the Grand Palais towards the Arc de Triomphe, stopping at some of the shops along the way (Louis Vitton, Gucci, Guerlain, Adidas, Disney, etc, etc).

    While walking we heard the roar of aircraft overhead and stopped to see the flyover of a number of military aircraft, practicing for Bastille Day.

    We returned along the other side of the Champs Elysees and the Rue de Rivoli back to the Marais district. We thought that we would try and find the wine shop of Hana’s niece’s father in law, called Caves du Marais (Cellar of Marais). We found it but found it closed with a sign (in French) in the window. While trying to work out what it said, a young man walked up and explained to Hana that he was on holidays but that this was the best wine shop in Paris!

    We wandered down to the riverside to find that there were a number of open air bars set up there as part of Paris Plages, an annual event each summer that creates temporary artificial beaches along the river Seine in the centre of Paris. We found a nice one and sat and listened to some jazz while having a drink and nibblies on the shore of the Seine.
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  • Day11

    Paris - Day 11

    July 10, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    We started our day with breakfast at Café St Regis, a lovely little café on Ile St Louis, which became a favourite breakfast place for us. One of the waiters was a lot of fun, singing and joking with the customers. We had fresh crusty bread with jam and café au lait (coffee with milk) and hot chocolate.

    We had an easy day as we wanted to slow things down after the hectic Spain tour and also because Michael was a little unwell with a virus.

    We wandered around the Marais district north of Ile St Louis. We stopped for a while in Place des Vosges, one of the most popular squares in Paris. Built in 1612, it is an ensemble of three dozen symmetrical houses with ground floor arcades, steep slate roofs and large windows surrounding a large square.

    We walked back to the riverside and strolled around Notre Dame and the Ile St Louis.
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  • Day10

    Madrid to Paris - Day 10

    July 9, 2017 in France ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    On our last morning in Madrid, we walked from our hotel, the Hesperia Madrid, into the city for some last minute sightseeing and shopping.

    We bought two compilation CDs of flamenco music, one of Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist, composer and producer Paco de Lucía, and supposedly the greatest flamenco singer ever, Camarón de la Isla (considered as the gypsy god of flamenco).

    In the afternoon we flew to Paris, arriving at our hotel, Hotel du Jeu de Paume, on the Isle of St Louis, late in the evening.

    Ile St Louis is an island in the middle of the Seine River and like the other nearby island, Ile de la Cite, is the historic heart of Paris.

    Ile de la Cite is home to Notre Dame Cathedral, along with the Conciergerie and Ste Chapelle.
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  • Day9

    Madrid - Day 9

    July 8, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Our first day in Madrid began with a bus tour through the city, looking at the key buildings and monuments, such as the Cibeles Fountain, the Parliament, and the Puerto Del Sol.

    We stopped at the Plaza de Espana to see the statue dedicated to Cervantes and his fictional characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

    We finished the tour with a guided tour of the Prado Museum, with a highlight on the works of the Spanish artists El Greco, Velazquez, Murillo, and Goya.

    In the afternoon we headed out to Toledo, Spain’s equivalent of a downsized Rome. It was the former capital of Spain before the capital was relocated to Madrid. We were led through narrow meandering streets towards the beautiful Toledo cathedral.

    We concluded the day with an end of tour farewell dinner at a local Madrid restaurant, with great company from around the world with fellow travellers from Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the US, and our guide Enzo from Italy and our driver Antonio from Portugal.

    As it was Michael’s birthday on the previous day, they gave him a lovely surprise as they all wished him Feliz Cumpleanos and brought out cake and candles.
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  • Day8

    Seville, Cordoba, and Madrid - Day 8

    July 7, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    After Seville we headed towards Madrid with a stop in the perfectly preserved Moorish city of Córdoba.

    There we saw the 2,000 year old Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir River, called the Puente Romano, as Cordoba was once a part of the Roman empire.

    Entering the city, we visited its centrepiece, the gigantic Mezquita, also known as the mosque-cathedral. It is the only place in the world where you can worship mass in a mosque. The mosque that was built by the Moors in the 8th century was converted to a cathedral in the 13th century not by destroying and rebuilding it as a cathedral but rather by building a cathedral within it, thus preserving the beauty of the mosque.

    The key feature of the Mezquita is its most defining characteristic, the unique terracotta and white striped arches. Glimpsed through the dull light they are at once spooky and striking.

    Another highlight is the mihrab, the scallop shaped prayer niche that faces towards Mecca that was added in the 10th century.

    We continued our journey to Madrid and with little time to rest and freshen up, were off to a three course dinner accompanied by a performance by local opera singers. The waiters and waitresses were also to opera singers!
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