Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lourdes - Sacred Town of the Pyrenees

One doesn’t have to be a Christian to be intrigued by the sacred sanctuaries of Lourdes, in particular the Cave of Apparitions. The town was placed on the world christian pilgrimage map in 1858 when 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous saw Virgin Mary in a series of 18 apparitions. 

It’s walls worn smooth by millions of hands, the grotto is today accompanied by a beautiful chapel and 20 baths that sources water from a spring that Benadette was instructed to drink water from and wash in, by the immaculate conception herself. The baths are often used by invalids seeking cures.

These days also, unholy souvenir shops line all paths to the sanctuaries but I did as others did and filled a small bottle with the incorruptible holy water. Hope I never have to use it!

In perfect honesty, we were in Lourdes for the Pyrenees hiking haven but the visit to the grotto was unforgettable and admittedly spiritual.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Paris Montmartre - As Charming As Paris Can Get

The bustling 18th arr. of Paris promised a more local experience than the usual centre so we boarded close to its iconic hilltop as a (rare) unanimous choice of neighbourhood for our week's stay in Paris. We were due for a break from hops between towns, exploring the intricate streets of this artists' enclave sounded both leisurely and exciting. 

Montmartre (pronounced "mo-ma" put simply) was exactly what we pictured old Paris to be and delightfully different from the image I had from my teens; urbane but populated and forgettable. 
A few interesting facts worth mentioning about Montmartre:

  1. There is special place in the heart of Montmartre for Louise Michel, a central figure in the fourth french revolution (Paris Commune of 1871). Respect for women anarchists.                                           
  2. Remember the cult french movie Amelie?That's the cafe where she worked. Average food though!.                    
  3. If you're into science fiction, here's an original story by French writer Marcel Ayme of a man named Dutilleul who could walk through walls. Until he took the wrong medicines that led to the poor guy's current situation.   
  4. Shell games are still rampant on the streets of Montmartre with by-passers lured in to double their money. All betting are part of the act and the real trick is played by the pickpockets lurking around!
  5. Almost two-thirds of the glamour girls that cancan their heart out at the Moulin Rouge are Australians. No photos allowed in this house.                         

Now for our many days of walking in this marvel neighbourhood's charming streets. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Paris Street Styles - Fashion Is An Attitude!

I had a mental image of the kind of style and fashion that I would find on the streets of Paris. Being spoilt for style on Sydney streets, I must admit my expectations were pretty high! 

Well groomed, well dressed and style in everything; (including riding a push bike) is what we found to be the identity of a typical Parisienne. 

Abundant on the streets were staple Chanels, off-the-rack LVs, classy oxfords, big hair, fisherman knits, bright pinks, today's navy, leather still hot and evergreen denim. There was hardly anyone without make-up, many with messy hair that looked very purposeful, fancy shopping bags and striking prints everywhere. 

Right from students, to girls next door and stunning music artists  - all were individually styled but blending in to make the streets of Paris a pretty good-looking place to be! 

After all, the city is the HQ of european style with ateliers of most big french houses and exudes an appreciation of style on its streets. 

Starting with a shy photographer and a bold presenter who did all 
the asking!





Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mighty Mont Blanc - Atop Aiguille Du Midi & Down From Plan De L'Aiguille

To stand within striking distance of the mighty Mont Blanc from Aiguille Du Midi was a humbling experience. Growing up, I can recollect the mountain range for its notoriety related to the two Air-India crashes plus the many devastating avalanches and climbing fatalities, so standing close to the behemoth was kinda scary. 

Chamonix Needles

At 4810m it clearly bestrode the European alps like a colossus and our feet were burning to get on a trail. The plan was to break the cable descent at Plan de L'Aiguille and walk the rest of the way down - One of the popular trails in that area with great views of Glacier des Bossoms. Intermittent stop at Lac Blue made a great teaser!

The walk, although with significant descent, was perfectly scenic and pleasurable - even time to exchange flowers ;) No famous chamonix mountain goats crossed our paths but plenty of poopy evidence!

We wondered what it would be like to summit the Mont Blanc with so many tour companies offering to guide those without any prior experience. Of course, we weren't even close to being physically fit enough to climb at that altitude but sounds like there's another issue - Why is Mont Blanc the world's deadliest mountain