Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Travels with Martina Day 3 - Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame and Ile Saint Louis

On our first full day in Paris, we were still jet lagged and somewhat bleary eyed from our 24 hour journey.  But still, we managed to drag ourselves out of the apartment to visit a few sites to give Martina her first real glimpse of our favourite city in the whole wide world. 

You run into such interesting finds around the neighborhood  -- Papier Tigre is a stationary shop in the Marais with such cool and distinctive items, all of them drool-worthy for stationary addicts (thank goodness I'm not one of them).   Sadly, no photos inside please  but anyone can pose beside the giant pencil outside. 

Paris' Metro system is efficient and affordable (one fixed fare to go all around the city).  The apartment was just a few hundred meters from the Filles du Calvaire station on line 8.

Jay's favourite metro station happens to be Cite which is right in front of the marche aux fleurs (also one of his must see, must go to spots).  This flower marker dates all the way back to 1830
There are open air displays and covered arcades selling potted plants, flowers, gardening supplies, small antiques and all sorts of curiosities.  

Photos at the marche are no longer allowed -- there are big NO PHOTOS signs all over the place.  Most likely due to the crowds of non-customers, all taking selfies and perhaps knocking down some merchandise in the process. 
So that you can see how charming and quaint the marche is, here is an old photo taken some winters ago, on one of our Christmas holidays in Paris.  There are a number of these covered iron pavilions, built during the early 1900s. Crowded with all kinds of vintage and irresistible knick knacks -- we could never leave here empty handed. 

The only photo I could take was of this stone statue -- is it a bench, a planter?  It was adorable and one of a kind but definitely too heavy to bring home.

Aside from the marche aux fleurs,  the Cite Metro stop takes you right out to Place Louis Lepine, named after a former prefect of the Paris Police.  The Police headquarters used to be in a building
by the Seine, very near here but they moved out two years ago.  Across the square is the Palais de Justice  and beside it is  the amazing 14th century royal chapel of St. Chappelle.  

From the Place Louis Lepine, it is just a hop and a skip to Notre Dame.  Miraculously surviving the horrific fire in April, it was amazing to see that from certain angles (and with wishful thinking)   you could actually imagine that the fire never happened. 
Here's Martina holding a mini figure of the cathedral.  Before we left, we had bought her a book that came with figures of the different landmarks of Paris -- we tried to visit as much of them as we could.

When you cross the bridge and look beyond the trees -- you will see the fire's extensive damage. 
It is a truly a miracle that the Cathedral is still standing.  The entire roof is gone. 
Seeing Notre Dame was a reaffirmation of faith ... she has stood for more than 850 years and I know she will be restored. 

We took the steps down to Quai de Montebello to walk by the Seine
In the background is the Pont au Double, a cast iron bridge dating back to the 1800s. 
It used to be a connecting bridge between two parts of the Hotel Dieu, which is located beside 
Notre Dame.  The Hotel Dieu is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe and  is still used to this day.
The bridge gets its name from the two silver coins that were levied as toll for those who crossed the bridge,  hence the name Pont Au Double
No toll is exacted these days but the bridge is closed due to the reconstruction work at the Cathedral. 

Behind the Notre Dame is the Pont de l' Archeveche, a  bridge that links Ile de la Cite with the 5th arrondissement. A few years back it was most famous for the sheer number of  "love locks" tied to its metal railings.  At some point in time,  part of the bridge's rails collapsed due to the weight of all the metal locks. 
Good-bye locks and good bye pledges of eternal love!  Now, glass panels cover the railings -- no one can attach love locks anymore.  Is romance dead in the City of Love and Romance?

At the end of the bridge, a small memorial to all the locks (and love) lost has been set up.  Note though that this portion is fenced off, to prevent any lovestruck couples from attaching any more locks. 

Paris was in the middle of the canicule or heat wave -- what better reward after traipsing under the hot sun than a pit stop at the city's best glacier ... Berthillon!  You can't miss it, it's right end of
Pont Saint Louis, the pedestrian-only bridge that connects the Ile de la Cite with
Ile Saint Louis.

Berthillon's creme glacee is sure to bring a smile to anyone's face.  They may not have 31 flavours but what they do have is some of the best ice cream in Paris

From Ile Saint Louis it is 2 kilometres more or less to the Marais and back to the apartment. 
We crossed the Pont Louis Philippe which gave us a good view of the Pont Marie, one of three bridges that connects the island to the rive droit or right bank. 
Blue skies, the Seine flowing calmly beneath ... c'est parfait!  Paris ... you never disappoint.

Traveling with Kids Tip #3

A long flight through different time zones is bound to hit anyone with jet lag.  Take it slow on the 
first full day in a new place.  While you may want to cram as many sights and sites as you can in the short time that you're on vacation, kids need to acclimatise too.  A short but productive excursion 
of a few hours followed by an early bedtime will help them recover and adapt quicker. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Travels with Martina Day 2 - Apartment-ing in the Marais

After a 4 hour breather in Schiphol (where we stretched our legs and exercised our stomach muscles) we were soon on a plane again, this time headed for our real destination -- Paris.  

Martina surprised me -- this was her first long haul flight and what a looonnngg haul it was.  Two hours to Taipei then twelve and a half hours to Amsterdam.  While she did get a good night's sleep on KLM's comfortable lie-flat beds, she had been travelling for almost 24 hours when we finally boarded our flight to Charles de Gaulle airport.

"Where is the Eiffel Tower, lola?  I thought Paris was a city, why are there farms?"  I had to explain that the airport was somewhat out of the city and the view from her window was not yet Paris.

"Paris Vous Aime" -- Paris loves you.  Yes she really does! And we love her right back. 

We had contracted  a van  for our airport transfers.  Our apartment, home for two weeks  was strategically and conveniently located along a main street in  the upper Marais area. 

Located on the 3rd floor of one of the many old buildings you'll see all over Paris, the apartment has two large windows which let the breezes in.  Perfect for this summer when Paris was in the middle of a record shattering heat wave.  The apartment had no air conditioning --  having one would deface the facade, something that apparently the government has a say on.  Old structures are protected and owners are not allowed to add anything that will affect the building's look, they can only improve the interiors. 

And so we opened the curtains and looked out onto more residential buildings across the way --
all of them seemingly without the advantages of air-conditioning too.  

While the apartment was relatively small -- 34 square meters all in all, it did come with a complete and compact kitchen.  A four burner induction range, microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator ... there was even an automatic washer and dryer.   We would make good use of this kitchen and the laundry facilities during our 14 night stay in this apartment.

The apartment was small and the building was definitely old but the bathroom was spotless and clean -- a big plus in my book.

Sleep quality was good too - we didn't miss the air conditioning as we opened the windows wide at night -- and would have to close them during the cooler early dawn hours. 

Here's Martina standing in front our building.  Her first impression was of the ubiquitous graffiti --
" why is Paris so dirty, lola? "  But then she said in the same breath "but it's so beautiful too!"  

Traveling with Kids Tip #2

Get the child adjusted and comfortable in the new environment as soon as possible.   Whether you're staying in a hotel or a rental apartment, take her on a tour of the place, explain what to do, what not to do, how things work and just how much like home it is (or isn't).  If there's time, take a quick walk around the neighbourhood to show the child that this is a friendly and hospitable place. 

Travels with Martina Day 1 - A long day's journey into night and day again with KLM

It started off as our 40th wedding anniversary gift to ourselves.  We would commemorate the milestone by travelling to favourite places and making new memories.  What could be better than that?  Well, we could bring along our one and only grandchild -- Martina, at 8 was  at that age where she would remember the places she'd see and the things she would do.  And at 8 she would still be willing (and unembarrassed) to hang out with her grandparents.

We planned this for a number of months and everything just fell into place.  There were no hiccups with visas, affidavits, DSWD permits (necessary for children below 12 travelling without their parents) -- the Universe certainly wanted Martina to have this one big adventure.  Before we knew it, we were in the lounge at NAIA 3 waiting for our flight. 

We have always flown to Europe on one airline only -- flying blue on KLM.    But it had been quite a few years since we last flew to Europe so we were all excited to see how the newer planes were fitted out.  KLM has just one daily flight out of Manila and it leaves at 8 p.m. -- past Martina's usual bedtime but the excitement kept her up and energised.

The spacious business class seats would certainly make the long haul flight much more comfortable. 

Martina had a list of shows she wanted to see -- I was almost worried that she would be glued to the video all the way to Amsterdam!  Please note that the glass of champagne was mine.  
Just a little bubbly to celebrate the start of our big vacation!

Because the plane leaves Manila at dinner time, a light supper is served.  But don't eat too much because they'll feed you again in a few hours. 

There is an hour's brief stop in Taipei -- at past 10 pm some stores were still open, catering to those taking late night flights.  

The lie-flat beds of KLM made for a restful night.  Martina had at least 8 hours of  uninterrupted sleep.

The crew woke us up about an hour before landing.  Breakfast was served --  you can't go wrong with croissant and scrambled eggs.  

Our first glimpse of Amsterdam!  Land, ho!

Thank you KLM for a safe and pleasant ride!  

We had a few hours to wait until our flight to Paris -- Schiphol Airport was busy and bustling even 
at 7 a.m!

We cooled our heels in comfort,  with free flowing drinks and food at the Crown Lounge.  Second and third breakfasts, anyone?

As we got ready to board our plane for Paris,  I saw this timely and apt message.
Yes, hopefully we would be able to make this an inspired and truly unforgettable trip!

Traveling with Kids Tip #1

Long plane rides are a bane to families traveling with children.  Babies, toddlers, pre schoolers and even in-betweeners can be restless and irritable.  To prepare our 8 year old for the 23 hour (total traveling time) journey ahead, we made sure to inform her weeks ahead, dividing the chunks of time into understandable segments e.g. dinner, free time, bedtime, etc. She also brought along a book of puzzles, her favorite toy and of course KLM's in-flight entertainment helped pass the time. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The (Two) Happy Folks' Home

Why do we choose to live where we live?  There are reams of  articles answering that question -- writers talk of cities or towns where they live, where the air is cleaner, where the quality of life is a few notches above where they used to live. 

Which brings me to the question -- what quality of life am I after?  Perhaps this is what I should answer seeing that I have consciously chosen to start a new life in the middle of a  couple of thousand square meters of uncleared land -- more than 3 hours away from where I currently live. 

A few years ago,  Jay and I made plans on leaving the city behind --  the congestion, the clutter, the complexities were no longer necessary nor worth it.  As you grow older, you look for the simpler, more minimalistic  life.  Our house had also become so full of "stuff" -- the things we had accumulated  through 40 years of marriage. Marie Kondo, help!  

Perhaps we took the easier way out.   Instead of looking at what we "had"  and wondering if they still "sparked joy" (traffic and noise ... definitely not) before throwing them all out --  we decided to build a new house.  Smaller, more compact --  we resolved to start fresh and keep it as spare and clear of all clutter as we could.  
This is the quality of life that we now both aspire to.  
It took almost two years of building but this month -- our clean, small house was finally finished and is now waiting for us to slowly move in.

The house has a  fairly spacious kitchen and I realized that the shelves can be transformed into a mini culinary library for my food related books.  

Early on, we said that this would be a house just for the two of us. We have never done much entertaining in our lives so the small space between the main door and the sliding glass doors that lead out to the tree filled backyard cannot be called a real "living room" area for when "company" calls. 
There is no couch, no visitors' chairs (how anti-social of us!) just two antique narra rocking chairs (that used to belong to a childhood friend's family). Perfect for relaxing and even napping on lazy afternoons.

We had specified to our architect and to our contractor that we wanted an  industrial type of design for the house  -- the ceiling is exposed, the walls and floors are all made of concrete with just a few wooden touches. Everything is simple and spare. 
To add some flair,  we looked for and found a pre-owned crystal chandelier -- in the curvy and very feminine "Maria Theresia" style.  Named after the 18th century Empress of Austria, this chandelier gave a much needed soft touch to our otherwise "warehouse"type interiors. 

The house has a den cum guest bedroom.  Our interior designer fashioned a day bed out of a pair of antique hardwood headboards gifted to us by a friend.  This house fulfills the requirements of a wedding -- something old, something new, something borrowed -- now I'll have to find something blue!

I dread the time when I have to transfer my hoard of books -- Jay believes I have too many and in my heart of hearts, I know he is right.  Perhaps that is why he had so few bookshelves set up in the den.  

The single biggest room in the house is our bedroom.  It's also the only room where I requested for and got a wooden floor.   The floor is made of wide planks of vintage wood, sourced from old homes.   Our interior designer had the bed custom made -- if you look a little longer you may notice the headboard looks somewhat like a stylized torii.  I hope I can invite good and benevolent kami in this house.

The land needs to be cleared and cleaned up.  I love that there are so many trees and foliage but I know they need to be trimmed.  There is a cliff at the edge of the property that looks over the mountains across where there are more trees (for now at least).  It is a lovely spot for a future meditation and prayer corner.
Our new  house is a work in progress but its bones and foundations are excellent. 
I know we will have an amazing time here -- in our (two)  Happy Folks' Home!