Postcard from Giro 2018: part I

We kicked off our Giro adverture in NE Italy, staying in Pordenone, which has a beautiful Old Town surrounded by a river and plenty of greenery. It’s a place and area we both know well as my beloved has clients here and I have a dear friend living nearby in Asolo. It’s our first visit since the Giro 2016 and we’ve enjoyed visiting old haunts and finding new ones.

Conveniently we arrived at Apero’clock and headed straight into the bar opposite the hotel for an Aperol Spritz. It was superior to those we’d recently drunk in Paris. We’re beginning to think that they’re like coffee, better and cheaper in Italy. It was easily as good as the one I recently drank at the Carlton in Cannes which was 10 times the price!

I’d elected to dine in my favourite restaurant but “shock, horror” we found it was closed and undergoing renovation. So we went to my second favourite. We fortunately arrived there ahead of a large party who’d laid on some entertainment, a chap at an organ singing. It was truly dreadful and we were grateful we were seated at the other end of the restaurant. The dog on the table next to us started howling, whether in protest or to drown out the singing I have no idea but………In any event, dinner was delicious and we quickly departed for an early night.

Prosecco!

 

Next morning we headed to our first stage – no 13, unlucky for some – from Ferrarra to Nervesa della Battaglia. The finish town was in Prosecco country, so hopes were high that it would be one of those delightful historic towns with plenty of Baroque architecture set around a chaming town square lined with cafes, bars and restaurants. Sadly, our hopes were cruelly dashed.

They had bicycle regiments in WW1

The finish town had absolutely nothing to commend it. The locals had done their best, festooning it with pink flowers, bunting and balloons. Its claim to fame is only as the site of an important WWI battle – the Giro was celebrating 100 years since it ended. Otherwise, the town is totally unremarkable.

After a quick walk around town, we ate at the only place serving meals rather than just panini. Chaos reigned within. We waited 40 mins for a drink, a further 20 mins for our starter and, after another 75 minutes, gave up on our main course. However, I do believe one of the members of staff may have provided Julie Walters with inspiration for Mrs Overall. Though even she melted when ladies’ fave Bernie Eisel sat down at the next table with the Eurosport crew. She served them in record time! Though, to be fair, the restaurant was now practically empty.  It took me a further 15 minutes to pay and even that was only thanks to the timely intervention of the Rai crew.

Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates graced the leader’s jersey for 13 days

On the upside, a local producer of Prosecco distributed bottles of same in the press room so we picked up one each – result. The race passed through the town once before the finish on what was a rare day for the sprinters, ahead of Saturday’s fearsome stage to Monte Zoncolan. The last of the four-man break was sucked back in within sight of the line and Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)  took his third stage, tightening his grip on the puce jersey – a colour, I should add, that suits no one, at any time, anywhere.

See what I mean about the colour?

We hung back to watch Alessandro di Stefano’s Rai TV show Processo alla Tappa (After the Stage). A consummate professional from her finger tips to her toes, she asks all the right questions and rapidly summarises the key points. Sadly we missed Apero’clock due to the huge traffic jam as everyone fled the town.

Once back at base, we ate at one of the newer restaurants in town which has now gone on “The List”. Dessert was an ice cream from the shop in the town square which is owned by a former professional cyclist who still looks pretty trim. He obviously doesn’t over-indulge on his products.

The stage start on Saturday in San Vito al Tagliamento was just down the road from where we were staying. I hung around the buses to drop off some cakes that I’m sure would be appreciated after the day’s tough stage which finished on the iconic Monte Zoncolan. It took me a while to locate everyone, as the parking was so disorganised. As usual the space allocated for the buses was far too small so they were spread all over the place.

20 consecutive Grand Tours for Adam Hansen and he’s still smiling!
All roads lead to…………..

This start town was much more to our liking and was absolutely packed to the rafters with both locals and visitors and, as usual, bedecked in pink. Because space was limited at the Monte Zoncolan finish, we elected to watch it on the television. We were somewhat surprised by Chris Froome’s (Sky) resurrection but he did say he’d reccied the stage beforehand. His planning and preparation was rewarded with a surprising stage win, although race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) managed to limit his losses. Saturday evening, we tried a well-known fish restaurant in Pordenone which was excellent and wondered why we’d never eaten there before. It too went on “The List.”

Defending champion Tom Dumoulin signing on
Thibaut Pinot: Is Tibbles now the French housewives favourite?

Again, Sunday’s start stage of Tolmezzo was not too far away though closer to the Austrian border. It was yet another charming Italian town albeit one with an Alpine feel. Unfortunately, the shops were open and I spotted a lovely handbag that I just had to acquire! If only the organisers had given me access to the sign-on, this would never have happened. Again, to avoid the traffic, we watched the stage conclusion on the television even though the finish town wasn’t too far away. Consequently, we were around for the all important aperotivo which preceeded a trip to our favourite pizza joint.

The Giro’s lovely podium girls

We spent Monday’s rest day in Ljubljana before heading to Lake Garda where we spent two nights at the same hotel we stayed in en route to Seefeld at Christmas. You can read all about it in part II.

Postcard from Ljubljana

On a recent trip to watch a few stages at Giro d’Italia 2018, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in Ljubljana which many consider an undiscovered European gem – not sure I’d go quite that far!

As we drove over from NE Italy, the scenery changes rapidly from pan-flat ringed by mountain ranges to rolling hills, with farmhouses snuggling in the hillsides surrounded by loads of green pastures. It reminded me a bit of the Allgäu in southern Germany. Our two-hour drive was hampered by a couple of road incidents. Amusingly, Italian customs officials stopped us at the border on suspicion of stealing the car and taking it to Eastern Europe!

I only had a couple of hours walking around Slovenia’s capital while my beloved met with his clients. I didn’t go up to the castle, though I did wander around the Old Town and along the river, spotting the famous Dragon Bridge. I found the place reminiscent of Prague, largely due to its beautiful melange of architectural styles  – Baroque meets Art Nouveau.

Around and leading down to the river Ljubljanica, are a number of squares and the famous triple bridge, the work of well-known 20th century architect and town planner Jože Plečnik. However, the town’s most famous bridge is dominated by four dragons – Ljubljana’s symbol. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, the Dragon Bridge is a shining example of Art Nouveau architecture.

The city dates back to Roman times and there’s plenty of its archaeological remains proudly displayed in its many museums, some of these can also be viewed in the Chopinov prehod underpass in the Kongresni trg square.

The Prešernov trg square, overseen by a 17th century Franciscan church of the Annunciation, was paved only after the city walls were pulled down in the middle of the 19th century. The face of the city changed in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in 1895 and a number bourgeois palaces were built to replace those that had been destroyed. Some of these were subsequently refurbished in the early 20th century and given an Art Nouveau makeover.

One of the city’s museums was celebrating 100 years since the end of the Great War as indeed was the Giro d’Italia with its dalliance in NE Italy, the site of numerous battles and a tremendous loss of life.

Slovenia is a farming country and this shows up in its hearty local fare. Though there were plenty of interesting restaurants ,I was tempted to raid the magnificent fruit and vegetable market and have an impromptu picnic beside the river.

Aside from a couple of stores selling luxury brands, and the usual high street chains, there were lots of artisanal shops selling local produce. But, again, I was more interested in the buildings than their contents. Finally, I ate lunch in the business quarter, well away from the tourist traps, at a restaurant catering for local business men and women.

It’s a charming green city, boasting a large number of beautiful parks and a botanical garden dating back to 1810. Ljubljana’s largest park is the centrally located Tivoli, where you can often enjoy interesting exhibitions of large-format photographs.

The city’s definitely worth a week-end trip but, if I come again, I’d probably prefer to stay outside the city and enjoy riding around its beautiful countryside with a couple of quick foray’s into the capital to investigate further its green spaces, museums and finally, enjoy a trip along the river and to the castle.

A Wonderful Opportunity for Someone

From time to time I do a spot of head-hunting. This time it’s for one of my favourite clients, a European, second generation family-run, profitable and innovative company. It is setting up something which will be quite ground breaking, disruptive even in a business sector which has longevity. I try and cast my recruiting net far and wide, as well as mining LinkedIn and XING. So I thought;  “why not use my blog?”

Ideally, I’m looking for someone with around 5 years’ experience in Digital Sales/Marketing and/or e-Commerce who’s German mother tongue, speaks some French and English, and is either currently living in or wants to live in Paris. Here’s the advert below, if you know of anyone who might be suitable and interested, please pass it on.

Thanking you in advance for your kind consideration and assistance.

Country Manager/Sales Manager Germany

We’re an international group, a leader in the sale of consumables, and we’re about to launch our German subsidiary.

Our proven Business Model and original approach allows us to differentiate ourselves from the existing competition.

We are looking for a passionate and capable candidate, an entrepreneurial self-starter, to manage this ambitious project from our office in Paris.

Candidates should have a minimum of 5 years’ experience, be capable of working on their own initiative and used to handling broad decision-making authority and responsibility.

  • Possibility of acquiring a minority stake in the company.
  • B2C Web experience essential.
  • Fluent German, good French and English required.
  • Management experience in FMCG would be beneficial, but not essential.
  • Ability to use web communication tools and social media to structure and develop business proposals for German customers.
  • In particular, SEO experience Google / Facebook required.

If you are interested in this position, or you know someone who might be interested, please contact me directly at the following e-mail address: sheree@wanadoo.fr.

 

 

 

 

A few of my favourites spots in Paris

Over the years we’ve tried to stay in and explore many of the different arrondissements in Paris. It’s not that we’ve “run out” of quartiers but rather that we’ve fallen in love with Le Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) which, along with Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Ile Saint-Louis, is one of the most evocative quarters of Old Paris. We love its architecture and atmosphere.

Paris’ first “protected” area in 1965, Le Marais is now the finest flower of old Paris, an open-air museum of French architecture where the various renovated Hôtels evoke the spirit of the Old Royal Capital, nowhere more so than Place des Vosges.

PLACE DES VOSGES

The former Place Royale was built between 1605 and 1612 for Henry IV who intended it should be a centre for Paris’ many artisans, not an aristocratic square. But the project proved too expensive and the investors increasingly fancied the location for themselves. So the bourgeois pavilions, with their commercial galleries below, became aristocratic properties around a central space which the King decreed should be a recreational area for Parisians. Properties in Place des Vosges are eye wateringly expensive but everyone can still enjoy the square.

Place des Vosges, Paris 75003 and 75004     

LE TRAIN BLEU

No trip to Paris is complete without a trip to Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon be it for lunch, a snack or just a drink. It’s a place I planned to take my Dad, I know he’d have loved the decor, approved of the old-style service, and enjoyed the food. As you can see from the photo, its cherubs, mermaids, painted scenes and lashings of gilt recall journeys to the Côte d’Azur in the heyday of steam. Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, it remains a glamorous out-of-time experience amid the clamour of the Gare de Lyon station. Food in the restaurant is a grand and delicious take on brasserie classics while the comfortable, clubby bar offers a good place to sit, have a drink and wait for your train.

Gare de Lyon, Place Louis Armand, 75012 Paris (+33 1 43 43 09 06; le-train-bleu.com)

MARIAGE FRERES

The French are not noted tea drinkers however, in the afternoon, they do enjoy a really good cup of high quality tea. We’re particularly fond of this company which, aside from selling tea, also has a tea shop and restaurant in Le Marais. We pop in to stock up on supplies and are enjoying working our way through their extensive list of teas. My beloved has also been known to down one of their delicious cakes! Not unlike Le Train Bleu, the tea room has an air of a bygone era and I love how knowledgeable everyone who works there is about the hundreds of different teas.

The company has plenty of outlets in Paris and beyond, but this is the branch we typically patronise

30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 75004 Paris, (+33 (0)1 42 72 28 11; http://www.mariagefreres.com)

LE BAR A HUITRES

No trip to Paris can be considered complete without oysters and champagne. Imagine, my beloved and I went for years turning our noses up at oysters believing they looked, and hence would taste, snotty. Finally, we suspended disbelief, closed our eyes and downed one – heaven! And, we’ve never looked back. There are plenty of restaurants serving seafood but we rather like this four-restaurant company and have eaten at both their Place des Vosges and Ternes restaurants.

33 boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, (+33 (0)1 43 87 98 92; http://www.lebarahuitres.fr)

BRASSERIES: LE SANCERRE ET CAFE CHARLOT


The joy of dining at these old-fashioned brasseries lies not just in their food, but in their neighbourhood ambience. The food is wholly acceptable, exactly what you want at a neighbourhood brasserie – crowd pleasers, a daily menu, great atmosphere, owner run, plenty of locals.

Le Sancerre which borders rue de Bretagne, opposite its lovely park, perfectly cooks mussels, omelettes and pasta and has therefore passed my brasserie test with flying colours.

A few hundred metres further on is another of my favourite brasseries. Café Charlot is on the other side of rue de Bretagne, closer to Marché les Enfants Rouges and has the advantage of a sunnier terrace than Le Sancerre. It’s one of the more attractive cafés thanks to its magnificent old-fashioned bakery shop front, its wrought iron still intact and with its retro ambiance. It too has a menu full of crowd pleasers and turns out perfectly fluffy omelettes. A great place for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Le Sancerre, 87 rue des Archives, 75003 Paris (+33 (0)1 42 72 65 20)

Café Charlot, 38 rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris (+33 (0)1 44 54 03 30)

MARCHE LES ENFANTS ROUGES

The market was named after the 16th-century orphanage which previously occupied the site and whose children wore red clothes indicating they’d been donated by Christian charities. Although the orphanage closed before the revolution, the imposing wooden edifice remained and it was reopened as a food market in 2000. Now something of a tourist hotspot, the market is well-equipped to fill the emptiest of stomachs with its impressive range of artisanal and organic produce plus and a range of eat-in or take-away delicacies from places such as Tunisia, Italy, Greece and the Middle East. It’s certainly one of the more atmospheric of Paris’s food markets.

Unsurprisingly, rue de Bretagne has plenty of traiteurs and food shops, including a branch of Pierre Hermé.

39 rue de Bretagne, Paris 75003

LE CARREAU DU TEMPLE

This great Haussmannian market was renovated and reopened in 2014. Carreau du Temple produces more than 230 artistic, cultural, sports and lifestyle events every year. In addition, it hosts more than 50 associations which offer weekly classes and courses for everyone. This innovative project in the heart of Paris cleverly oscillates between a broad cultural offer and event programming. We always make a point of seeing what’s on while we’re in Paris. On our most recent trip there was an exhibition devoted to arts and crafts.

4 rue Eugene Spuller, Paris 75003, (+33 (0)1 83 81 93 30)

Which are you favourite spots in Paris? Let me know!

 

A visit to Les Invalides, Paris

On our most recent trip to Paris, my beloved noted there was an exhibition exploring Napoleon’s Strategy at Les Invalides and expressed a desire to go and see it. I’d visited years ago but my beloved had never been. It’s well worth a visit, whether or not you’re a history buff. We started at the top of the main building and worked our way through some but not all of the exhibitions, so, we’ve unfinished business.

Introduction

Le Musée de L’Armée was created in 1905 when the collections from the Artillery and Army’s History museums merged to create one of the largest museums of military art and history. It contains some of the world’s most prestigious collections, including those of old weapons and armour, plus some unique collections such as those of small artillery models and 19th-century items relating to Napoleon I and the marshals of the French Empire. Obviously, the collection’s location within a military monument such the Hôtel National des Invalides lends it even greater character. There are few military museums that offer such a large collection of works and cover such a wide range of historical eras.

Its seven main spaces are divided into themed or chronological departments, as follows:-

  • Main Courtyard and its artillery collection.
  • Old department: armour and weapons from the 13 – 17th centuries.
  • Modern department: Louis XIV to Napoleon III, 1643 – 1870.
  • Special Rooms, such as those containing the relief maps and toy soldiers.
  • Dôme des Invalides: tomb of Napoleon I.
  • Contemporary department: 1871 – 1945.
  • Charles de Gaulle Monument.
  • Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides.

Special Rooms

Scale Models

On the top floor, in fact in the attic, you’ll find scale models of fortified sites which were constructed from 1668 onwards on the initiative of Louvois, Louis XIV’s Minister of War. These strategic tools provided an accurate representation of towns and surrounding countryside within artillery range. They were thus used to plan changes to military fortifications or to simulate sieges. I can just see the King’s ministers moving around the model armies found on a lower floor.

The collection comprises 100 relief maps on a 1/600 scale, covering key fortifications overlooking the Channel, Atlantic Coast, Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. It’s a fascinating collection and they’re all beautifully made and maintained.

Historical Figurines

The 5000 or so pieces on display represents all the different types of historical figurines, and the diversity of the Army Museum’s collection, which is made up of around 140,000 pieces in total. The displays, arranged in parade formations, comprise:

  • 18th century card figurines made by and for adults using stiff cardboard
  • Tinplate figurines produced during the second half of the 19th century
  • Lead figurines produced as children’s toys
  • 20th century plastic soldiers

 Artillery models

The one thousand piece collection of scale artillery models is one of the largest in the world. The exhibition starts with royal and princely pieces and continues with models bearing private coats of arms which, for the most part, were given as honorific gifts. It also features models of weaponry designs that were never actually adopted but were developed with a view to improving the specific technical elements of artillery pieces.  Some of the models are all that remain of artillery pieces that have otherwise disappeared. There’s also a display of scale models of 18th and 19th century French artillery.

The Modern Collection

The collection aims to bring history to life by showing the military, political, social and industrial history of France through the ages in a number of themed spaces. Using interactive media – my favourite bit – relive the great battles, learn about soldiers’ lives, follow developments in technologies and tactics, and get to know the figures who shaped this period.

The collection is both large and diverse with uniforms, weapons, equipment from various French and foreign regiments, arms, horse harnesses, orders and decorations, emblems, historical figurines and musical instruments are displayed alongside the personal effects of illustrious figures, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and his marshals. Plus, there’s a large collection of paintings recording key events during the period.

Temporary Exhibition – Napoleon: The Strategist

The exhibition celebrates Napoleon’s skill as a military strategist. There’s more than 200 works from French and European collections which are used to paint a fascinating picture of his meteoric rise from humble soldier. Again, I particularly liked the immersive interactive aspects where you could analyse and recreate his most famous battles.

Over the lunch-period there was a re-enactment, I’m not sure of what, in the Cour d’Honneur which included a band where inability to play a musical instrument clearly didn’t prevent you from joining in!

Footnote

We popped into the Cathedral and tried out the catering facilities, provided by Angelina’s, of hot chocolate fame, where they made me a delicious vegan sandwich. We only spent half a day there and it merits at least a day, if not more. But, if you’re a history buff, it’s well worth it!

A visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton

Uber-rich Arabs, Russians, Thais and Chinese acquire football clubs, but the French – been there, done that, got the t-shirt – establish Fondations. Even as I type work is being carried out on the old stock exchange opposite Les Halles for M Pinault’s Fondation. The Galleries Lafayette ruling family have recently opened the Lafayette Anticipations in Le Marais. We’re slowly working our way around them all. Last week-end we hopped on the Metro and the Fondation’s own bus service, to visit Bernard Arnault’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry, which opened in 2014.

Frank Gehry’s vision

I dream. I dream of designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolises France’s profound cultural vocation.

Gehry, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 1989, achieved his dream thanks to the generosity of another of France’s billionaires. Like so many great buildings, this one started with a few squiggles, a bit like sails in the wind.

The Fondation is set in a truly lovely location, in the Bois de Bologne, near the historic royal route to the west of Paris. The building has terraces of different heights affording stunning views over the trees in the park, some even offer a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

The building is made from a simple palette of materials and colours, from the Burgundy limestone pave outside to the wooden screens in Le Frank restaurant. But its the glass which dominates and catches the eye with its geometric curves and lines. Its twelve sails play with the light and reflections from the basin of water in which the building sits.

I’ll be honest, I absolutely loved the building and it is reminiscent of a ship particularly on the staircase landings with their exposed steel structural walls which look like the hull of a ship. The spaces inside are extraordinary, all different shapes and sizes and often in unexpected places.

Permanent Exhibits

There are various commissions both inside and outside of the building. In the Auditorium is a work called Spectrum. Alongside the walkway in the Grotto are 43 prism shaped columns of varying width encouraging visitors to activate a continuous interplay of reflections. The water tank on the West Terrace is in fact a small planet that has landed on the terrace! Overlooking the restaurant, the Fish Lamps evoke both the marine world and the idea of movement.

Open Space

Easily missed, this spot is reserved for very contemporary work by young artists. This is Lips and Ears (2017) a monumental sculpture of two heads in a boat.

Children’s Activities

As we wandered around I was intrigued to see guides discussing the exhibits with bunches of young children in a very fun and interactive way. Particularly in the Takashi Murakami exhibits with its colourful characters which no doubt provoke the kids’ imaginations. the Fondation also has an app (who doesn’t these days) which allows kids to look at the building interactively.

Exhibition: Au Diapason du Monde (at one with the world)

The main exhibition included the works by the Japanese artist mentioned and shown above but the rest of the spaces were given over to exploring man’s position within the universe and his relationship with other living things. And, just in case you were wondering, that’s not a real dead horse swinging from the ceiling! How do I know? I asked!

A visit to the Musée Picasso in Paris

On our most recent trip to Paris we once again stayed in the Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) and used this as our base for visiting pastures old and new. One of my favourite buildings in the area is the one which houses many of Picasso’s works which were donated to the state in lieu of payment of death duties (Dation Picasso). The property, like many in the area, has an interesting story to tell.

History of Hôtel Salé

This is just one of many museums dedicated to the works of Picasso described as being, “the grandest, most extraordinary, if not the most extravagant, of the grand Parisian houses of the 17th century”. Hôtel Salé was built by Pierre Aubert, an important Parisian financier, advisor and secretary to the King. Aubert collected tax on salt on behalf of the king hence the house’s name, Hôtel Salé (meaning “salty” in French). He was a “middle-class gentleman” seeking to assert his recent social advancement.

He chose a site in an undeveloped area where Henry IV of France wished to encourage construction with the building of the Place Royale and chose a young unknown architect called Jean Boullier de Bourges, who belonged to a local family of stonemasons, to design his edifice. It took three years to complete and in the final days of 1659, Aubert moved in.

The Hôtel Salé comprises two corps de logis, two lines of rooms which extend the building’s surface area.  Its footprint is asymmetrical: the façade giving onto the courtyard is divided in two by a perpendicular wing that separates the main courtyard from the rear courtyard. The courtyard, following a wide curve that flatters the façade, is punctuated by seven open bays to emphasise the central avant-corps on three levels.

The front of the building is typically Baroque in style with an immense pediment emblazoned with acanthus, fruit and flower motifs while the façade overlooking the garden is much less ornate. My favourite bit is probably the central staircase which has been entirely restored to its original condition. It is based on the stair plan designed by Michelangelo for the Laurentian Library in Florence. Instead of a closed staircase, two Imperial flights of stairs are overlooked by a projecting balcony and then a gallery.

The staircase’s sculpted stucco is divine. It’s allegedly a physical translation of Hannibal Carache’s paintings in the Farnese Gallery”  with eagles holding a lightning bolt, cupids adorned in garlands, Corinthian pilasters and various divinities vying for attention.

Sadly, Monsieur Aubert was unable to enjoy his sumptuous surroundings for very long. In 1663 he was brought down by the same scandal that ruined Fouquet. The house then passed through numerous hands including the Embassy of the Republic of Venice. In 1790, the house was used during the French Revolution as an ecclesiastical bookstore. It changed hands again in 1797 and stayed in the same family until 1962.

The City acquired the house in 1964 and the property was granted Historical Monument status on 29 October 1968. From 1974 to 1979, the hotel was restored and returned to its former spaciousness, After extensive renovations, the Musée National Picasso was inaugurated in October 1985. Its most recent renovation was completed in 2014.

Acquisition of  Picasso’s Works

Picasso once said “I am the greatest collector of Picassos in the world.” By the time of his death in 1973, he had amassed an enormous collection of his own work, ranging from sketchbooks to finished masterpieces. The “Dation Picasso”  contained work by the artist in all techniques and from all periods, and it’s especially rare in terms of its excellent collection of sculptures.

These works have been supplemented by donations from his heirs and acquisition of a number of other works through purchases and gifts.  Today the Musée Picasso has over 5,000 of his works of art including 3,700 works on paper, ceramics, sculptures in wood and metal, and paintings. This is complemented by Picasso’s own personal art collection of works by other artists, including Renoir, Cézanne, Degas, Rousseau, Seurat and Matisse.

Guernica Exhibition

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of its creation, the Musée Picasso, in partnership with the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (owner of the painting), has dedicated an entire exhibition to the story of this exceptional painting,  one of Picasso’s most famous works.

Picasso painted Guernica in 1937  in reaction to Nazi Germany’s devastating casual bombing of the Basque town Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The painting shows the tragedy of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. Its lack of colour only intensifies the drama. Guernica is a mural sized canvas (3.5m x 7.8m) painted in blue, black and white oils.

Interpretations of Guernica vary widely and many contradict one another. Picasso was particularly provocative in his explanation of the painting. Many have read much into the mural’s two dominant elements: the bull and the horse, important characters in Spanish culture. However, ignore the theorists and just enjoy the painting. The loan from the museum in Madrid includes numerous sketches, thoughts, newspapers excerpts and after-thoughts of Guernica which gives it a contextual setting.

Aside from Guernica, there are plenty of other works by Picasso to enjoy, including some which he collected from his contemporaries all displayed in the wonderful Hôtel Salé. Don’t forget to explore the gardens afterwards.

 

Postcard from Paris

My beloved’s birthday was during a recent, exhausting 10 day trip to China. Consequently, I suggested a 4-day trip to Paris to unwind and celebrate. Thanks to the train strike this was necessarily extended to a 5-day trip – no complaints from me. Once again we stayed in a rental apartment in Le Marais. It’s pretty central for all our activities, just up the road from our friends, and we find comfort in the familiar now that we know our way around the area.

Day one: our adventure starts

Bizarrely the weather during our trip was glorious, way better than that in Nice. After a pleasant trip by train – with the weather visibly improving as we sped north – we greeted our landlady and dropped off our luggage before heading to a nearby brasserie for lunch. We’ve eaten there before and it’s pretty much my idea of the perfect neighbourhood restaurant. It’s family owned and run, which I firmly believe always guarantees better food, service and ambience. This place is pretty popular with locals – another good sign –  many of whom just pop in for a drink at the bar and a chat with one of the owners.

Hunger sated, we raided the nearby traiteur and Marché les Enfants Rouges for supplies for dinner. We prefer to lunch out and dine in, particularly as we were keen to watch all that week’s sporting action: Champion’s and Europa League football, Giro d’Italia, MotoGP from Seville.

Inevitably, when we’re away, we still have to keep on top of work. My beloved went back to the flat to work while I indulged in a spot of shopping. I popped into a shop where I’ve bought quite a few things in the past (British understatement) and enjoyed a coffee and a chat with the owner while browsing the latest collection. Nothing screamed “Buy Me!” so it was an inexpensive visit, just a couple of t-shirts.

I returned to pick up my beloved who had made some headway with his work. We continued our opus magnus to find the bar serving the best Aperol Spritz, a tricky task given the large number of bars just in our neighbourhood. However, we’re up for the challenge, particularly as it’s Happy Hour – well, it would be rude not to!

Our closest bar served an okay Aperol Spritz but the staff were rather inattentive – not owner run! We crossed that one off the list. It’s back to the flat where I plated up dinner and we settled down in front of the television. I missed the second half of the match when I fell asleep on the sofa. Well we did have a very early start!

Day two: we hang out with Picasso

My beloved went to his favourite bread shop to collect supplies for breakfast. We have noted that Parisian croissants are much flakier, have greater lamination and are far superior to those down south. All my French friends concur, so that must be the case. My beloved heads back to the grindstone while I pop out for a wander round. I love poking my head round those massive oak doors on the street to see what lies beyond. Sometimes it’s quite surprising, other times not.

We eat lunch in another of our preferred brasseries before we (finally) visit the Musée Picasso, showcasing his painting Guernica, probably one of his best-known works, which normally hangs in a Museum in Madrid. We’ve visited Guernica and read about the attack represented in the painting. However, we were keen to learn more about it.

When we lived in London I loved going to lectures by living artists who explained about the inspiration behind their works. Sadly, we could no longer ask Pablo but was sure we’d find the answer in the exhibition. While I was interested in seeing the various exhibits, I was equally keen to see the inside of the quite splendid Hôtel Salé, where it’s housed. It surpassed my expectations so I’ll do a separate post on it.

We closed with a leisurely walk in the sunshine, admiring the lavish property porn, before trying another bar. Not bad but no real improvement on the first one. That too gets crossed off the list. Again, we spend the evening in watching another exciting football match. This time I managed to stay awake until the end of the match.

Day three: a spot of business

Friday kicked off with an early business meeting over in the 10th arrondissement. We decided to walk there via Châtelet – Les Halles. There’s loads of interesting shops and restaurants en route but they’re closed at this early hour. As we walked along, we mingled with parents taking kids to school. I love the way French kids all have those rucksacks bigger than themselves.

A successful meeting and we retraced our steps. This time I enjoyed looking at all the now-open food shops and cafes which no doubt sprang up when Les Halles was the central food wholesale market. It moved out of central Paris in the early 70s and the building was demolished. Ten years later the huge former market has been replaced by green space (the Garden of Les Halles), an underground shopping mall (Forum des Halles), leisure facilities (a popular swimming pool, cinema) and the RER station Châtelet – Les Halles, the largest underground station in the world.

Opposite Les Halles, works continue apace as François Pinault, a French billionaire and majority shareholder in retail conglomerate Kering, is preparing The Bourse de Commerce to house his extensive collection of contemporary art. Some billionaires buy sports teams, others collect art. Each to their own. Due to open next year, this exhibition space will house works from the Pinault Collection as well as works from other major artists. It looks as if it’ll be yet another wonderful addition to the already rich Parisian cultural scene.

Lunchtime we tried out a new joint in the neighbourhood selling US style lobster rolls, reinvented for French tastes. They were delicious, full of lobster and low on mayonnaise. Mine even came with avocado. We both think it’s a hit but only time will tell.

In the afternoon, we visited the recently opened Lafayette Anticipations, a group of 19th century industrial buildings in Le Marais renovated by Rem Koolhaas, surely one of the best names ever for an architect. As the name suggests, its patrons are the owners of the French retail group Galleries Lafayette. This is quite an edgy exhibition space with a restaurant in the foyer and an experimental production workshop in the basement for guest artists to work on new projects. Again, this is another place worth visiting just for its architectural merit.

On our way back, we stopped off at (yet) another bar to sample their offering. It was a marked improvement on the previous ones and makes our short-list. We also strolled around a large photographic exhibition put on in the nearby Hall des Blancs Manteaux. There was some eye-catching and truly magnificent artwork on show as there was at the nearby Carreau de Temple.

Despite eating lunch out, we opted for typical Jewish fare that evening for dinner, albeit pretty much all vegetarian, at one of the many neighbourhood restaurants. We’ve eaten there before and rather prefer it to the conveyor belt atmosphere of L’As des Felafal – closed, as it was a Friday. Afterwards a smorgasbord of sport awaited us back at the flat.

Week-end: we cruise the 16th and 7th arrondissements

Saturday, after a decidedly gentle start, we headed by metro and bus to the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Bologne. We had timed our arrival to perfection and secured one of the last available tables in Le Frank, its foyer restaurant, for a lovely light set vegetarian/vegan luncheon. Fortified we strolled around the exhibits and gardens much admiring the form of the building and its contents. Again, this visit merits a post all of its own.

Once back at base, we tried another bar and this too made the short-list. Things were definitely looking up on the Aperol front. We raided the Italian traiteur for dinner – a roaring success. More sport and a relatively early night after all that walking. We’ve been averaging around 12km a day. Actually, I’d probably done more than that but, unlike my beloved, I don’t have an Apple watch.

Sunday my beloved decided he’d like to visit the Napoleon exhibition at Les Invalides. We elected to walk along the Seine which was buzzing with runners, cyclists and dog walkers. I’d visited the museum many years ago, though only a couple of the exhibits stuck in my memory. It would be easy to spend several days here so instead we concentrated on the period leading up to 1870. This too was worthy of a separate post.

We wandered back once again along the Seine where everyone was out enjoying the sunshine as if they were beside the sea, rather than the river. On the way we slaked our thirst with an iced tea before continuing our Aperol project. This time we were meeting our friends who live in the neighbourhood and their choice of bar was spot on, easily the best so far.

Lunch had been an enjoyable baguette at Angelina’s in the garden of Les Invalides. The fridge was empty save for a few lonely olives, so we decided to brave one of the newly opened hotel restaurants which had loads of vegetable options on its menu. We were its first customers but after we’d sat down more were drawn to its inviting surroundings. Dinner was delicious and we’re hoping it’ll go from strength to strength.

Adieu: until next time………..

All too soon our little break was over. A leisurely breakfast, a potter round Places des Vosges and then it was time to head for home. Our landlady offered us the flat free of charge until the week-end, because she’d been expecting workmen who’d let her down at the last moment. I was tempted but my beloved had a business trip to Romania scheduled.

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Obviously, we concluded our little break with lunch at Le Train Bleu before an enjoyable train trip home. I’m definitely going to try and schedule another trip to Paris before year end.

People watching

Is there anything better than sitting down with a nice hot or cold drink, depending on the season, and indulging in a spot of people watching? My beloved and I adore – okay it’s mostly me –  speculating on the nationality, profession and reasons why other people are inhabiting the same space as us.

When I was a kid, I had NO shame. I would go over and ask. Of course, when you’re a cute kid – and I was cute –  you can get away with this. In fact, totally unprompted and uninvited, I would sit down and subject the person or persons who were the object of my speculation to a barrage of questions. I don’t remember anyone refusing to respond, ever.

I’ll be honest, as I’ve grown older, little has changed. I loved auditing lots of different companies because I could legitimately ask them loads of questions in the course of my work. Also, I could tell you loads about everyone who worked with me but I know the reverse wouldn’t have been the case. They’d have told you I was married, had worked for the company for x years, supported Aston Villa and then they’d have struggled. They might’ve said I was a good boss, a good listener, someone who “walked the talk, ” who knows?

Nowadays I exercise my endless curiosity interviewing fit, young, guys and gals who cycle. But, to be honest, no one is safe. Sit next to me at dinner and you’ll leave having had an enjoyable time. I’ll know pretty much all there is to know about you, while you’ll know very little about me. You’ll have been hacked without even realising it. The upside is it will’ve cost you nothing.

It’s not that I’m deliberately coy, I do write a blog after all.  It’s just that as well as being able to talk the hind leg off a donkey, I’m a very good listener. I lean in, ask a leading question and then nod encouragingly. It NEVER fails. My husband often says he feels sorry for my victims. “Victims?” I like to think of them as willing participants. After all, who doesn’t love talking about themselves?

Of course, I’ve had to restrain myself. I can’t go round accosting strangers and asking them all manner of questions, hence the endless speculation. However, as I get even older, I plan on becoming a sweet, determined, eccentric old dear who asks anyone, anything she wants. There’s got to be some benefits to being elderly!

40 years of Memorable Moments: Reichstag, Berlin

I’m continuing with my series of Memorable Moments to celebrate our 40 years of marriage – where did the time go? Looking back with my beloved, it’s amazing how many of our special moments were spent with my late parents. Of course, now that they’re no longer with us, we’re glad we spent so much quality time with them.  Here’s another “moment” featuring them.

I had the pleasure of working with Foster & Partners on the Erotic Gherkin, now an iconic part of the City of London skyline. On behalf of the client, Swiss Re, I recruited and managed the team who dealt with the project on a day-to-day basis. It was a role initially well outside my comfort zone, and one that was combined with my existing job, but it was nonetheless very enjoyable.

I happened to mention to one of the architectural practice’s partners that I was going to Berlin with my parents and he suggested a guided tour around the Reichstag which was one of their in progress projects. Everyone was game and arrangements were made to view and tour the building on Saturday afternoon.

My parents enjoyed spending long week-ends with us in Germany, largely I think because I made all the arrangements and both my beloved and I speak the language well. We’d already enjoyed trips with them to both Hamburg and Munich. I’d booked a hotel in what used to be West Berlin just a short stroll from the Ku’damm.

We arrived early on Friday afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to explore the neighbourhood on foot. One of our favourite spots is the food department on the top two floors of Kaufhaus des Westerns, known locally as KaDeWe; the largest European department store after Harrods. The sixth floor is famous for its enormous variety of food and beverages all laid out around numerous gourmet counters. The seventh floor (added in the early 1990s) includes a winter garden with a very large restaurant with a magnificent view over Wittenbergplatz.

Saturday morning, we walked over and around East Berlin much of which, like the Reichstag, was under reconstruction. However, the recently opened and newly constructed Adlon Hotel, located on Under den Linden, directly opposite the Brandenburg Gate, beckoned us in for lunch. Our visit must have been around this time of year, because I distinctly remember we all ate white asparagus.

The afternoon was given over to touring the Reichstag. In particular my parents were keen to walk up the metal ramp (now inside a glass cupola) to get a real sense of the city. I recall the views were magnificent even though I felt somewhat queasy – I suffer from fear of heights. The architect leading the tour was keen to stress the building’s green credentials and what the practice was doing to conserve the building’s sense of history.

During reconstruction, the building had been almost completely gutted, removing everything except the outer walls. However, as mentioned-above, Foster & Partners had been keen to respect historic elements of the building and retain them in a visible state, such as the graffiti left by Soviet soldiers after the final battle for Berlin in April–May 1945. However, the reconstruction’s crowning glory is undoubtedly its glass cupola which has a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape.

The following year, at a similar time, Foster & Partners invited us back to Berlin for the official opening of the building. My beloved was unable to go with me, so my father came instead. He was much intrigued to see the finished article and we enjoyed a splendid reception among the Berlin glitterati. 

My father and I stayed in the same hotel as before and had a very pleasant week-end sightseeing, which naturally included another trip to KaDeWe. Walking around the former East-Berlin, it was particularly interesting for us to see how much progress had been made in the previous 12 months on the reconstruction and renovations. A boat trip on the Spree gave us yet another perspective on the renovations.

My beloved and I last visited Berlin in 2006 to watch a couple of World Cup matches. Shocking to realise that was 12 years ago. I think it’s time for another! What do you recommend we should visit this time?