That Trip… Dixième Jour: The Glory of Napoleon, and Some More

Souvik and I had a long debate on whether to buy the Paris Museum Pass, and finally decided yes. Then we had to juggle our itinerary to include a few museums to make the pass worthwhile. Yes, we’ve got the Louvre in now, as well as the Musée D’Orsay, but agreed to start with the most manageable Musée de L’Orangerie.

The Musée de l’Orangerie is best known for the being the permanent home of Nymphéas, a series of large paintings of water lilies in two oval galleries designed by Monet himself. I believe we had our money’s worth, just seeing these water lilies on such a grand scale.

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Next stop: across the Seine to Les Invalides, built in the 17th century by Louis XIV as a hospital for unwell soldiers. It is also the final resting place of Napoleon, and has some military museums too.

The structure itself is on a grand scale, but I can’t say much about France’s military history, and the section on the world wars seemed to focus far more on the army uniforms than anything else. Well, this is France, the fashion capital of the world, so I suppose that’s to be expected. The church is grand too, and so is the tomb, but we came away unimpressed. The ornate dome is inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and has a way of popping up in many of the panoramic photos.

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We weren’t ready to tackle another museum today, so walked back to the right bank to Place de la Madeleine. A Greek-styled church built as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army, La Madeleine is now known for the gourmet and haute couture shops around. We had a bit of retail therapy, shopping for mustard at Maille and then macarons at Ladurée.

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By now my feet were killing me, and we had a long trudge home. Also, the sun had come out after ages, so the crowds on the street had doubled. I was grumpy-groany all the way back, and relieved to flop on the sofa. After resting our tired feet, we decided on dinner at Chez Omar, recommended highly by Dan, just 5 minutes from home. We got there early, having heard reports of long waiting queues. The speciality of Chez Omar is couscous, the quantity sumptuous, and the taste divine. It was such a pleasure to eat hot food after ages! And the hot sauce accompaniment – off the charts!

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Good food equals happiness, and heavy meal means that Souvik quickly falls asleep. I let him. Until 9.15pm. The sky was clear, a perfect night for photography from the top of Arc de Triomphe this time. Still not recovered from the day’s exertions, we took the train. Waved our museum pass at the entrance, but we had to climb those 284 steps again. And quickly. So there we were, me huffing, not permitted to use the tripod, taking long exposure shots at night. I will surely cringe when I see these on the laptop! But Champs Élysées looked so beautiful!

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The iPhone didn’t do too bad either:

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We were all shooed out of there at 10 minutes to 11, not even allowed to hang out until the hour when the Eiffel Tower would sparkle. Spoilsports! I caught sight of the moon rising, and went back for a very quick shot.

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Down below, it was easier to play with exposures, and we had a few good ones, including a portion of the Tower in its glittering glory.

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By now I’d used up all my energy reserves. Getting home, we decided that a midnight snack of La Fermiere yoghurt was the perfect way to end the day!

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A gem of a tour

Last week I found myself on a visit to the gemstone market at Rawa Bening in Jakarta, wondering WTH I was gonna do there. There were just two other ladies on the tour, one of whom had thought she was going on another tour and ended up on this one. The tour guide, a German, had more gems on him than all the women put together. Moreover, this was only his part time job; his regular occupation is sailing, and we got to hear some very interesting sailing stories from his life.

This gemstone market has been around for ages, apparently, and recently renovated, in keeping with the latest (non) trends in mall architecture – all primary and secondary colors on the exterior, and chaos inside. It can get overwhelming or even disappointing, if you don’t know what to look for. Much of it looks fake, or plastic, or just tacky. Our experience was not that bad, really, because we had our guide to point us in the direction of the genuine sellers of precious and semi-precious stones. The opals and rubies were alright, but I loved the purple of the amethyst stones, and the colors in the lapis lazuli blew me away. So did the turquoise. After the first tentative purchase, the next few stones were bought quickly, drilled and prettied up for wearing immediately. Most shops were more interesting in the photo opportunities they presented. And amazingly, there were far more shops dedicated to men’s rings (for ‘power’ and strength and what-not) than women’s jewelry. So anyone who says diamonds are a girl’s best friend must investigate the relationship between a man and his opal 😉

The ring with the hole

Lapis Lazuli

That's a stone polisher

Some of my loot

 

Shopping frenzy: Kitchen towels?!?

For longer than I can remember, our #1 shopping destination in Kolhapur is Sarda (for linen – bed, bath & beyond!). In the past, we made skirts out of tablecloths, then moved on to hoarding bath towels and other linen, for the price of nothing. Not just Reva & I, this place is a must-do for all cousins, aunts, some discerning friends, even random visitors. Lately, Reva’s started me off on a kitchen towel fetish. Can you blame us for loot that looks this good?

 

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If posing is the national pastime of the Vietnamese, then Shopping has to be the most popular activity of visitors (at least mine). There’s bamboo hats, silk runners, tailored clothes, ceramics, lanterns, handmade shoes, paintings, fish sauce, rice paper (!), water puppets, and scores of handicrafts to choose from.

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Aparna, uninterrupted.

Aparna loves all things handmade. So there was no stopping her from buying everything in sight at the ceramic village, silk village, ethnology museum, handicraft shops, roadside vendors, boutiques, art shops and whatnot. While Deven looked after the kids at home, and was rewarded with the choicest of Vietnamese meals, Aparna went berserk, and only a thunderstorm in Bat Trang put a pause in the shopping spree.

What you see below are only samples from the whole sets she bought. Missing from the pictures are all the lanterns, a big painting, and some of the boys’ Vietnam motif t-shirts!

It was a wonder they didn’t have to pay for any excess baggage. Need I say more?

A commercial break in Hoi An

For my fifth visit to Hoi An, I felt the need to do something different. So I found a new place to stay, thanks to a recommendation from my friend, Persis. Very nicely done up homestay, and priced well too, Betel Garden is just a km off from the central market. With their free bicycles, that distance is gobbled up in a few minutes, and makes it fun too.

This time, I stayed away from the main road in the market, preferring to cycle in the village lanes leading nowhere.

Also signed up for a sunrise phototour workshop with Etienne. It was a chilly Sunday morning, with no hope for a view of the sun, but there were 4 of us on the tour, taking the first ferry of the morning to the fishing village, smiling at the locals, and closing in for pictures. Punctuated by stops for coffee and divine freshly baked muffins, we got good tips, particularly for portrait photography.

 

Did I miss any of the shopping? Not at all. Ordered before Souvik came in from Ho Chi Minh City, and delivered at lunchtime before we left – shirts, jacket and 3 pairs of shoes!

India Day 5 & 6: Mumbai

How can I go to India, and not visit my favourite city – Mumbai. 90% of my friends are there, as are some of my top shopping spots. And some of my favourite cousins to pile on to. To reach Kolhapur from Delhi I have to go through Mumbai, so I took that opportunity to meet people and fill suitcases. Uju, Abhi & I had a fun dinner at Punjab Grill –

Though I wasn’t able to visit most of them, my favourite shopping places are: OMO at Waterfield Road, Bandra, Fabindia at Kala Ghoda and Crossword at Kemps Corner.

There was a strange incident –  I’d been trying to activate GPRS on my phone when in Delhi. Vodafone, being so technologically advanced, said that I could only do so in Maharashtra, coz the number was from Maharashtra circle. After spending an hour on hold with their customer care, I’d given up, and depended on wi-fi to surf the net. Upon landing in Mumbai, I found that bizarrely the phone’s GPRS was active and working well. Then later, when I got to Kolhapur, it went off again, and I heard weird stuff about having to buy an iPhone GPRS package (whatever that means – do they differentiate between phones when providing service?). In any case, GPRS never got active after that, and the wi-fi in Kolhapur went off too, so I spent many days being close to nature instead (not a bad deal at all).