Walking the Île St Louis, Paris

Paris - anneharrison.com.au

For the short while I had in Paris, every day I would venture down to a little supermarket on the Île St Louis. I never left empty-handed: a smoked chicken, some quail, or perhaps some cheese; yoghurt in its own ceramic pot (which I collected and brought home), a bottle of red. Consisting of two aisles barely wide enough for people to pass one another the place could hardly be classified as a supermarket, yet it was not a corner store, for in that small shop lay a wealth of offerings to put any supermarket to shame. The shop was simply the essence of the Île St Louis.

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Sainte-Chapelle: Let There Be Light

Let there be light - the wondrous Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

At this early hour, the sun was kissing the top corner of a window. Under her magic touch, the glass sparkled in a myriad of colours. Concerts are often held here at sunset, when the light is said to be spectacular, yet even at this hour the air around me glistened.

The Sainte-Chapelle proved as spectacular as promised. By arriving early, I avoided the queues and had the place as much to myself as possible in the heart of Paris in summer. By the time I left the queues had swollen to ridiculous lengths (the first for security, the next to buy tickets), and both the upper and lower chapels had filled with both bodies and noise. It was time to find a restorative café crème. Perhaps in the Tuileries.

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Discovering Marseille and Her Old Town

 

Discovering Marseille

 

Sailing into Marseille, the Basilica de la Notre Dame de la Garde greeted me even while my boat was still far out to sea. Her golden Madonna has been calling sailors home down the centuries. Then came the Chateau D’if. How could I sail past without thinking of The Count of Monte Cristo?

Part of what I love about sailing into a port is how so much of the old town lies by the water waiting to be explored. Like many a Mediterranean town, Marseille began as a village by the sea, and this is where her heart still lies. Palaeolithic cave paintings have been discovered nearby; the village of Massalia was the first Greek settlement in France, established around 600 BC. It was conquered first by the Romans, then by various other nations and city-states during the sea-sawing of alliances which marked medieval and Renaissance Europe. Continue Reading →

On Finding My Great Uncle’s Grave

My great uncle's grave from anneharrison.com.au

On the 8th September 1916, my great-uncle died from wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme. Second Lieutenant Henry Byron, 1st/5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, was twenty-two. His brother – my grandfather – enlisted at the age of fourteen, had a kidney shot out in Ypres, contracted TB while convalescing, and was shipped home with six months to live. Deciding escape was the only way to survive the miasmas of war-time Liverpool, he worked his way to Australia, jumped shipped in Perth, and died at the age of ninety two. He could never bring himself to return to France and visit his beloved brother’s grave – my daughter and I were the first in the family to do so.

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Staying in the Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu, Paris

 

 Hôtel-Hospitel Dieu

I lay in bed, staring at the flood-lit towers of Notre Dame. The sky-light in my room looked straight onto the cathedral. Founded by Saint Landry in 651 AD, the Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu was the first hospital in Paris, and still cares for ill Parisians. The ghosts of some 1300 years of medical history glide along its marble corridors, whispering in consultation outside the wards, then pass into the old-fashioned lifts to visit the fourteen quiet hotel rooms hidden on the sixth floor.

Hotels can be seen as merely a place to sleep, or they can be another layer in all the experiences of travel. They don’t have to be expensive (fortunately!) but as I love pre-dawn and evening strolls, and watching a neighbourhood change by the hour, I try to pick a place to stay somewhere interesting for my walks. If the hotel comes with its own history, is in a old part of town and has a great cafe or restaurant nearby (hello, Paris!) it’s hard to resist. The Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu offered it all.

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