La Jacobine: Latin Quarter Charm

During the summer of 2011, we enjoyed a whirlwind “highlights” tour of Paris, staying there for three nights on our way to Rome for the balance of our travels.  Food is always an essential part of our travel experience, and we tried sampling a variety of offerings in Paris during our limited stay.  One restaurant topped my entire family’s “favorites” list, though:  La Jacobine.

Our hotel was on the Left Bank, in the Latin Quarter area of the 6th arrondissement.  The neighborhood was a comfortable fit for us with a relaxed vibe.

Paris' Latin Quarter

Paris' Latin Quarter

Our boys have always enjoyed escargot, so of course, we had to have the classic French appetizer while in Paris.  La Jacobine served it up perfectly, and we enjoyed the company of a Scottish couple at the table next to us as we shared travel stories and adventures from home.

La Jacobine, Paris

The restaurant was tucked down a side alley, with a warm and inviting atmosphere that was not forced or pretentious.  The service was friendly, and we did not feel rushed as we enjoyed a dinner of simple but savory fare.   La Jacobine was the perfect spot to unwind after a busy day of sight-seeing.

Escargot at La Jacobine

Ciao! ~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

The sidewalk café culture – one of the first five photos I took after stepping off the plane in Paris.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary includes as one of its definitions for “culture”:

the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time <popular culture><southern culture>

The outdoor cafés and bars of Paris are a delightful expression of everyday existence, and this snapshot captured the casual, everyday nature of that culture – from the little dog looking expectantly at the scarf-adorned older woman walking by, to the gentleman at the table with a beer on a weekday afternoon.  Scenes like this always drew me in more than the crowded cafés filled with tourists along the popular routes.

Paris Cafe Culture

Aaron Joel Santos created this week’s photo challenge theme and challenged us to inspire curiosity with our photographic response.  Don’t these scenes just invite you to pull up a chair and enjoy a beverage, while soaking up the ambience of the activity and people around you?!  It is something I did not have enough time to do during our whirlwind trip of the city, but you can be assured that finding time to appreciate this timeless culture is something I will delight in whenever we are fortunate enough to return.

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Culture” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme: Up

A person cannot help but look up when standing at the base of the classic icon of Paris – the Eiffel Tower!

eiffel night view

Join in Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme at Where’s My Backpack? with this week’s theme of “Up.” Details on how to participate and other responses to this week’s theme can be found here.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Vivaldi and La Sainte-Chapelle: A Transcendental Travel Experience

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is  music.” ~ Aldous Huxley

Music has always held a special place in my heart, filling me with emotion and triggering memories like nothing else can do.  Perhaps that is why one of my favorite experiences from our trip to Paris was attending a chamber music concert of the Eiffel Orchestra at  La Sainte-Chapelle.  The concert gave me the privilege of sitting in the stunning beauty of La Sainte-Chapelle’s surroundings, soaking in the incredible detail of her famed stained-glass windows while letting the music fill my soul (and the sanctuary) with pieces of Vivaldi, Bach and other classics heard innumerable times, but never sounding quite as lovely as they did in that setting.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  ~ Plato

Eiffel Orchestra concert at Sainte-Chapelle, July 2011

I invite you to listen to an excerpt of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in the YouTube video below while viewing the gallery slideshow of photos I took before the evening’s performance began.  The La Sainte-Chapelle concert excerpt is from “alisabeaut” on YouTube.  The featured violinist, Karen Brunon, was one of the violin soloists playing with the Eiffel Orchestra the evening we saw them perform, as well:

La Sainte-Chapelle was Louis IX’s “Holy Chapel” constructed in the 1200’s.  The structure consists of a Lower Chapel and Upper Chapel.  We did not have a chance to tour the Lower Chapel during our visit.  Of the 15 stained glass windows in the Upper Chapel, where the concert took place, two-thirds are original to the structure.  The windows portray over 1,100 figures from the Bible.  During World War II, the extensive stained glass windows were all removed from the building in anticipation of the German invasion of Paris, and then reinstalled upon the conclusion of the war.

A lovely summer evening in Paris, as the sun filtered through magnificent works of art, and timeless music was performed . . . the experience was wonderfully overwhelming, and I could feel every one of my senses trying to absorb as much as possible to remember that hour of perfection for years to come.

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.  ~ Berthold Auerbach

You can view the photos as a group or click on any of them individually to view as a slideshow.


Travel Tips:

  • If you have the opportunity to attend a concert, try to purchase tickets for a performance time when there is still sunlight, to fully enjoy the stained glass details.
  • Arrive early (recommend 30 minutes+), even if you have pre-purchased tickets, as the line moves slowly.
  • CD’s of the group performing that evening may be sold after the concert (the Eiffel Orchestra’s CD included most of the pieces they played during the performance we attended), so allow time for purchase and autographs by the artists, if you are interested.

Ciao! ~ Kat

References for historical facts noted above and ticket link for La Sainte-Chapelle concerts:

Versailles Shines Even on a Rainy Day

When you are from Minnesota packing for a special summer trip to Italy, you obsess that the Roman July heat and humidity will put a damper on your travel plans, as you still have not packed away your fleece yet.  With the outrageous baggage fees charged by airlines, packing light is essential, and those suitcases need some wiggle room to accommodate the anticipated souvenirs and street market purchases.  Although we scheduled a quick three days in Paris at the front end of the trip, I had spent most of my planning (and packing strategy) energy on the balance of our two-week travels, all much further south in Italy.  Usually being the over-planner, I threw caution to the wind and said, “what are the chances of needing a jacket in Italy, given that their coolest evening temps are still a nice northern Minnesota summer day!”  I regretted that decision for our day trip to Versailles.

Walking toward the gates of Versailles
Walking toward the gates of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is a convenient train ride from Paris.  The history of the Palace is fascinating.  The decor and grounds of the Palace reflect the colorful life of King Louis XIV and tragic life of Queen Marie Antoinette, as well as the significant historical events contemporaneously occurring outside of Versailles.

The mid-July day dawned gray and gloomy  . . . and wet.  We had two umbrellas with us and made two street vendors happy by purchasing two more as we walked toward the massive palace.  We had purchased the Paris Museum Pass, which saved us wait time at many attractions.  Not so at Versailles.  We stood in the long, winding line outside of the Palace, with the other cold, wet, miserable tourists, just for the privilege of seeing the interior.

The Royal Chapel at Versailles
The Royal Chapel at Versailles

Once inside, the images were magnificent!  Over-the-top decadence, furnishings and art fit for the Louvre’s finest galleries.  And enough rude tourists to make a person say, “never again” (at least not during the high season)!  I would observe with glee when a security person “caught” a tourist trying to cut through a room and disregard the marked path of the tour, in an attempt to jump ahead of the slow-moving hordes of people.  I admit to being quite crabby in between the stunning images of each room.  And, if I was crabby about feeling like a cheap sardine in an overpacked can, I cannot begin to put into words how my husband felt by the time we escaped.

Looking at the gardens from the interior of the Palace of Versailles
Looking at the gardens from the interior of the Palace

We caught glimpses of the famous gardens on the massive estate as we walked from room to room.

The Hall of Mirrors ~ Palace of Versailles
The Hall of Mirrors

At the end of our self-guided tour, the Hall of Mirrors (where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, confirming the end of WWI) was as breathtaking as depicted in all of the guidebooks, and provided some consolation for otherwise feeling like cattle being funneled through narrow chutes on their way to the stockyards.

The view of the Grand Canal from the Palace of Versailles
The view of the Grand Canal from the Palace

While I enjoyed seeing firsthand the indescribable luxuries of Versailles’ interior, what I really had been looking forward to touring were the gardens.  After we escaped the crowds, and walked to view the Fountain of Latona looking toward the Grand Canal, my hopes of renting bikes and idyllically biking around the Gardens of Versailles with my husband and two teens wilted like my garden flowers after the first hard frost.  The enthusiasm of my traveling companions was waning the longer we stood outside and tried walking to some of the closest gardens, jumping puddles, feeling chilled, with mutiny building among the troops.

Wet day at Versailles
Galoshes would have been more appropriate footwear

My toes were not yet numb, but we all admittedly were underdressed for the weather (incredibly out of character for we Minnesotans who are used to packing for three-season weather almost every weekend).  And the rain, rain, rain kept coming down, down, down.

Minnesota nice was gone, and I believe the following words (or something close) came out of my mouth at one point: “Fine, if you don’t want to see the gardens, you can go stand under that alcove until I am done.  I didn’t travel all the way to Versailles to stand at the edge of the estate and take a picture.”  I am sure it was said in the nicest of tones, though, which resulted in a dour trio dragging their feet behind me as we trooped onward.

And then I saw the golf carts — motorized, timed golf carts for which you paid an exorbitant rental charge (particularly given the Euro-U.S. Dollar exchange rate that summer) to toodle about the gardens.  SOLD (or at least rented for a couple of hours)!  That cart appeared to me as good as a limousine at that point, with a canopy overhead and feet off of the wet ground.

Golf cart touring of Versailles' gardens
The view from the cart

We certainly did not have the tour of the gardens I had envisioned before embarking on our journey, but we saw more of the estate than we would have otherwise on that cold, dreary day.

One of the ponds of the Water Parterre at Versailles
One of the ponds of the Water Parterre

The majestic scale of Versailles cannot be fully appreciated without venturing out onto the grounds of the estate.  The flowers stood out in colorful contrast to the otherwise gray day.  I can only imagine how beautiful the scene is on a calm, sunny day (which means we must return again some day to experience biking through the gardens, or taking a boat out on the Canal).

Versailles' flower gardens
The only spot of color on a very gray day

We briefly took the cart out as far as Marie Antoinette’s estate, just to view it from the exterior (we were all borderline hypothermic by this point), and to grab a quick lunch of sandwiches and macaroons at Angelina Terrace near the Petit Trianon.   I recall starting to shiver from the damp cold as we sat outside eating our sandwiches on the terrace, which is probably quite lovely on a nice day.  [Note:  After we returned to Paris, I promptly went shopping for a cardigan sweater for our last evening in that grand city!]

Golf cart tour of the outer estate of Versailles
Wandering the outer paths at Versailles

The sun tried to peek through the clouds as we wrapped up our golf cart tour of the outer estate.  We learned that despite coming from the main Palace, which requires a ticket for entrance, you must be able to relocate and show your ticket stub to the security guard when returning to the main estate grounds from the Chateaux de Trianon.  My husband is lucky he is not still wandering about the outer gardens.  The security guard took pity on us, and apparently decided that if mom and two teens had ticket stubs, then dad must just be careless rather than dishonest.

Before I close, here are a few more images from this historic property:

The Royal Avenue at Versailles  Fountain at Versailles

Hercules Drawing Room ~ Palace of Versailles   Ceiling in the Hercules Drawing Room ~ Palace of Versailles

The antechamber of the Grand Couvert ~ Palace of Versailles    The War Drawing Room ~ Palace of Versailles

Near the Chateux de Trianon ~ Versailles    Fountain at Versailles

Sculpted bushes and statuary at Versailles  Lovely gardens at Versailles

Ciao! (or perhaps “au revoir” this time!) ~ Kat