September 21, 2011

Bonjour Paris Part 2

Two of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world (in my opinion) are found in Paris, France.

The first and more famous is the Notre Dame cathedral.  As usual the biggest problem is not getting to the place but lining up to go inside. I had to wait an hour before getting in.  Since there were too many people going up the towers to see the gargoyles up close plus challenging themselves to a really long and steep walk up, we decided to just stay downstairs.   The cathedral is Majestic.  Apart from being huge, everything inside was old and beautiful.  The sculptures, the stained glass windows, everything.  The pews were cordoned off for people who want to say a prayer, or gawk at the interiors, or both.  I took a few moments to pray for my family among the awed visitors. 

Saint Chapelle 
 A few minutes away from Notre Dame is the less popular, yet equally beautiful, Saint Chapelle Cathedral.  It’s inside the compound of the Palais de justice (Hall of Justice)  which meant that for safety reasons, everything we brought had to pass through metal detectors, so the line going in was long.  We went there early hoping to be first in line, only to fall in the middle of a long one, half an hour before it opened at 10am.   After getting in the compound though, everything else was a breeze.  The first floor of Saint Chapelle is inconsequential.  The beauty was on the second floor.  Going up I had to pass through a short and tight winding staircase then voila! I was in heaven. Beautiful stained glass windows, most of which were preserved from the 12th century, surround the whole place.  My senses were pleasantly bombarded by vibrant colors.  It’s especially stunning when the morning sun shines through.   What’s unusual though is that every pane of those windows tells stories from the Bible, from Creation to Revelation. Searching for a particular pane is difficult as there are just too many, but if you have the time and patience, why not.

The Arc du Triomphe is hard to miss as it’s right smack in the middle of Paris with 12 boulevards converging in one circle that surrounds it.  From Champs Elysee, all we had to do was walk through the underground tunnel to get to the arc.  Crossing the street is not advised unless of course, one has a death wish.  The arc is an imposing structure.  I had to stand under it for a few minutes just to be able to properly appreciate its entirety.  The arc has names of generals and battles etched on its walls, and underneath is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I by which the eternal flame is placed.  The view of Paris from the top of the Arc is great.  But to get there I’d have had to walk up more than 200 steps, something which my under exercised self wasn’t ready for again (I went up there on an earlier trip with my husband and by the time i reached the top i thought i had developed instant asthma :-)). So I stayed downstairs with other tourists who were either too old or too young.  I was neither (shame on me!).  then it was on to Champs Elysee. 

The most famous avenue in the world is long and wide, lined up with stores ranging from car dealerships to designer brands and fastfood chains.  Seeing McDonalds and Quick (the French equivalent of McDonalds) was jarring.  It felt out of place.  But when hunger pangs hit me, I made a beeline for Quick.  It was easy, convenient and quite cheap.  Perfect for penny pinching tourists like me. 
Also I had to pay respect to the mother ship that was the LOUIS VUITTON main store.  The line outside was long.  What surprised me though was this Chinese lady who spoke to me in the mother tongue (mandarin… she just assumed I could speak, which I couldn’t…well, at least),  asking if I was going inside the store as she wanted me to buy her a bag.  I turned her down saying I wanted to buy for myself.  I ended up not getting anything at all since I wasn’t in the mood to spend big moohla, that’s when I realized I could have made an extra 100 euros easily had I become her temporary bag mule!  Sad but true.

QUICK eating
Shopping in Paris is fun as it is where big French labels are at their cheapest.  But more so at the La Vallee Village outlet right outside Paris.  Via RER-A, we reached the outlet as soon as it opened at 10am and went straight for my favorite store, Longchamp.  The prices there are about 40 to 60% cheaper compared to retail stores so I had a field day.  The most saleable item there is the Le Pliage but unfortunately they have a new rule which limits a buyer to just 3 of these items per person (That’s because some buyers tend to hoard them  which leaves none for others).  Lucky me though since it was a slow day, I got away with buying an extra.  Aside from Longchamp, other notable stores I loved were Burberry, Givenchy, Armani, Ferragamo and Tod’s. 

Tip#1:  Before going to Paris, try downloading French language applications with audio options on your phone.  I did this a month ahead so I was able to practice speaking french.  At the very least, I was able to order my favorite Crepe Nutella easily.
With my partner in crime Nino

Tip#2:  Consider buying the Paris Museum Pass which gives you access to almost all the major sights in paris.  They have a special line for pass holders which can cut down waiting time considerably.

Tip#3:  If you only have 2 days in Paris then you may want to take the very convenient loop tour.  I took the 2 day Le Rouge bus tour which has only 9 stops, almost all of which are at major sights.

Tip#4:  Eat, Drink and Be Merry.  Enjoy the beautiful city of lights!

September 19, 2011

Bonjour Paris!

I love traveling.  next to eating good food, that's the thing i love the most.  And one place i can go back to over and over again is Paris, France.

A few weeks ago, i was lucky enough to be sent to Paris.  They gave me two whole days to go around and shoot what i can.  and so i set about arranging the tightest shoot schedule physically possible.  A few days later, armed with several different sized cameras (personal cam Sony HD and Flip Mino HD plus a professional camera), extra batteries, enough tapes for a ten day shoot, my work partner Nino and i set off for Paris via AirAsia.  And after a 7 hour layover at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we were finally in the City of Lights.

One thing that always hits me about Paris is the history in its structures.  Even amidst modern buildings and shops, there's always something old and beautiful.  Of course being greeted by the magnificent ARC DU TRIOMPHE and  to hear the french speak is always a big plus... ooohhhh la laaaa.

We were billeted at the very comfortable and well-priced Hotel Acacias Etoile near the arc.  The room was nice and comfortable, but more importantly, they had both RER and Metro stations nearby.
The Metro is the best public transportation within city.  With its many stops and and easy to read maps, it's quite impossible to get lost.  The RER on the other hand is the easiest way to get out of the city to go to Versailles and the La Vallee village outlet.

Within two days in Paris, we were able to visit the Musee du Louvre, Musee d' Orsay, Saint Chapelle cathedral, Notre Dame cathedral, Eiffel tower,  La Vallee Village, Arc du Triomphe plus walk along the Champs Elysee and ride the Bateaux Mouches Seine river cruise.  Believe you me, by the end of the first day our feet were dead.  but dragging our feet to get from point A to point B was easier knowing that we would see another beautiful part of french history.
Just walking around the city itself was a pleasure.  The temperature was a bit hot as it was summer when we went and tourists abound, but the idea of seeing  the city with people just as excited fueled us to move faster and enjoy the surroundings ourselves.

Museum visits in Paris is a must, especially both the Louvre and Orsay museums.  The Louvre houses 35,000 thousand artworks but it seems all tourists want to do is gawk at Leonardo Da Vinci's The Mona Lisa.  I can't blame them as it is the most beautiful painting in the world albeit quite small.  It was surrounded by so many people that i didn't bother going near it (i was able to do so a few years before).  it was amazing though how people are so willing to squeeze themselves in tight spaces just to be able to take pictures with her.  The Louvre is HUGE and it would take hours to finish looking at the most popular artworks, and to look at ALL of them would take days.  If you're a 1st time visitor though, a six hour viewing time plus an hour and a half of line-up time would suffice.

I have to admit the Orsay museum was a bit of a disappointment.  Certainly not the artworks within the former train station, but the fact that taking pictures and videos are no longer allowed.  This new rule surprised me as the last time i was there, people were free to take as many pictures as they wanted provided flashes would not go off especially on the paintings.  It was a downer for fans of impressionist paintings, however it didn't stop people from lining up for hours and still visiting this beautiful museum.

You can see the Eiffel tower from  most parts of Paris.  To say it's imposing is an understatement.  1,060 feet high, one has to look way up to SEE the top.  To GO to the top though is another matter.  since it was the height of summer vacation, tourists swarmed the Eiffel and lining up for tickets was hell on earth.  even with my trusty umbrella, the sun was unbearable as i lined up for 3 full hours before getting our tickets to go to the first two viewing platforms.  Unfortunately, buying a ticket to the the top (and 3rd platform) of the eiffel was moved to the 2nd platform.  I guess it was their way of discouraging too many people from going up at the same time but It was such a letdown for someone who wanted to see the view from the top.  and being bone-tired, lining up another hour for the extra ticket was no longer possible.

so we just moved instead to the Trocadero to see the tower at night....and My what a sight!!!
The Eiffel Tower lit up by thousands of lights was great, to see the Twinkling Eiffel though was magical.  it made me feel like i was in Disneyland for a second.  There was even a collective ooooohhh and aaaahhhh from among the people waiting with me when the twinkling lights came on, which lasts only for 10 minutes at the start of the hour for a few hours late at night.  So all those hours waiting and standing were well worth it in the end.
More of my Paris sojourn in Bonjour, Paris Part Deux to be posted in a couple of days.  Thanks for reading and have a Great day!

September 11, 2011


Author: Douglas Rees
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Category: Young Adult Fiction

Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo?
Is Perhaps the most famous line from William Shakespeare’s Tragedy, ROMEO & JULIET.  The play itself is one that everyone seems to know most.  Well, the story is given a new spin here in the Juliet Spell.

Miranda Hoberman is desperate to play Juliet in their town’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet.  So one night she casts a witch’s spell for fame and instead got an unexpected visitor in the form of Edmund Shakespeare, the brother of the bard, William himself.   He took to his new life easily, so easy in fact that in no time at all, he snagged the part of Romeo and got himself a girl, much to Miranda’s chagrin.  Good thing though she got the part of Juliet and starts getting close to other players such as the genius Drew and Bobby, who happens to like Vivian, the girl Edmund was dallying with.  Eventually Edmund drops Vivian and realizes his real Juliet is Miranda all along.  All goes well until time traveling, and life, gets in their way.

Miranda is a great heroine.  She is funny with lots of biting comebacks for Edmund whose ignorance of all things modern does not minimize his skill at  verbal tussles.   not surprisingly, she fell for him really fast…as fast as day 2 actually.  But he is gorgeous with brilliant blue eyes, long sandy hair and the perfect old british accent.  The progression of their relationship is pretty slow.  While Miranda has always liked him, he only realized it in the middle of the book, reluctantly too since he feels like he is betraying the trust not only of Miranda, but her mother as well.  But they get it together enough to have some sweet, special moments, albeit few and far between.  But then there’s also Drew.  Of course Miranda is blind to his affections with Edmund around, but then he proves to be a great friend to her…and maybe more… all I can say is, He is the reason everything comes together…… and ends.

This is a fun read.  it is nicely written and well paced.  Short too, it just took me 3 hours of lazy reading to finish the entire thing.  and even with the number of ayes, nays and old world words in edmund’s end of conversations, everything is easy to understand.  Plus there is a twist ¾ into the book that you shouldn’t miss.  Perhaps after reading this book, you’d go straight to reading the real thing.  Aye? I think so….