A Travellerspoint blog

Sunday in Praia

Cape Verde day four


View Cape Verde winter break Feb 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Old house in Plateau, Praia

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Cachupa and egg

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel (I tried the cachupa which was tasty) we got a taxi into the old centre of Praia, known variously as Plateau or Platô. This is the historic centre of the city and the spot where it was founded in the 16th century. It takes its name, self-evidently, from its geography as it is raised above the surrounding area of the city.

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Praça Alexandre Albuquerque


Chris wanted to go to mass at the cathedral church of Nossa Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace) but we were a bit early so we strolled around the Praça Alexandre Albuquerque, the main square, taking a few photos before going into the church. The latter is relatively new, dating from 1900, and rather austere, but the locals certainly appreciate it as it was packed, with standing room only at the back and many of the children sitting on the altar steps. And impressively well-behaved they were too! Cape Verde is 92% Roman Catholic, reflecting the country’s Portuguese heritage, and they seem to take their religion seriously, devoting almost 90 minutes of their Sunday morning to it!

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Above the church entrance

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In the church

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Bell tower

Exploring Plateau

After mass we had a coffee at the café in the Praça Alexandre Albuquerque, which was very good, and then spent an hour or so walking around and taking photos. The square itself is named after the mid 19th century colonial governor, Caetano Alexandre de Almeida e Albuquerque, and his bust stands on a plinth at the northern end, with a matching one of another governor, the explorer General Alexandre Alberto da Rocha Serpa Pinto, at the southern end (the road along the eastern side, in front of the church, is named for him). As well as the church, notable buildings here include the attractive city hall on the square’s southern side, built in the 1920s but looking somewhat older.

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Busts of General Alexandre de Almeida e Albuquerque and of General Serpa Pinto

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City Hall, and drinks seller in the square

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Cacti planted in the square

Just behind the church we passed an old house decorated with colourful murals, some rather dilapidated. This building houses the offices of the Amílcar Cabral Foundation and a small museum dedicated to preserving his memory, although this was closed. But we could see its spirit reflected in the quotation from Cabral which is incorporated in the murals.

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Amílcar Cabral Foundation murals

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My Portuguese is very limited, but the message was clear, and since my return I have been able to track down a full translation:

‘I swore to myself that I have to give all my life, all my energy, all my courage, all the capacity that I have as a man, until the day I die, in the service of my people in Guinea and Cape Verde. Serving the cause of humanity by giving my contribution, to the extent possible, for the life of man to become better in the world. This is what my work is.’

Cabral led the nationalist movement of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. He was born in the latter country, but to Cape Verdean parents, so had links to both. He was educated in Lisbon but afterwards returned to Africa, living for a time near Tarrafal on Santiago (Luis had pointed out his house when we passed yesterday). He founded the PAIGC or Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) and led party's the guerrilla movement against the Portuguese. He was assassinated in 1973 so didn't live to see independence declared, although by then success was inevitable. He is honoured not only here (where his image appears on one of the bank notes and is seen everywhere, and the airport in Sal named after him) but also in many other countries as he supported national independence movements worldwide. Luis showed us a photo of him with Fidel Castro - there were strong links between the two men and between the revolutions in their respective countries.

Beyond this house we came to a mirador, Miradouro do Cruzeiro, with good views of the bay and a low wall pierced by old cannons, the city’s former defences and part of the old town fortress of Bateira. The cannons are the originals, as we learned the next day from Luis.

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The mirador

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Cannon details


Praia has certainly needed to defend itself in the past. Among other attacks, it was raided in 1585 by Sir Francis Drake when Portugal was at war with England, and he ordered it razed to the ground, sparing only the town’s hospital. After the capital was moved to Praia in the early 18th century, from Ribeira Grande (today usually known as Cidade Velha), these cannons were installed here to help protect the city from pirate raids which were commonplace in this region.

The views up here were excellent, and the breeze very pleasant. From the mirador we could look down on the smallest of Praia’s beaches, the Praia Negra, where some locals were building, or possibly repairing, wooden boats.

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Praia Negra

We also had good views along the coast towards the next bay of Gamboa, where our hotel was located, and to the offshore island, the Ilhéu Santa Maria. I was interested in the ruins on this, and asked Luis about them when we saw him again the next day.

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Ruins on Ilhéu Santa Maria

He told us that this was the site of a former isolation hospital for cholera sufferers and these ruins are all that remains of this. Prior to that, in the early period of settlement in Cape Verde, it was a leper colony. It is currently undergoing development, along with part of the foreshore just below our hotel, as a casino. This project is being undertaken by a Chinese company, and Luis also told us about many other such building projects that have resulted from partnerships between the two countries – indeed, the Chinese appear, from his accounts, to be developing large parts of the island and were responsible for the national stadium, at least one university and the country’s only road tunnel, among other works.

Leaving the mirador we followed the back streets, past some photogenically crumbling houses and others quite newly painted in cheerful colours, taking plenty of photos along the way. The weather was perfect - warm but not too hot for exploring, and with just a few clouds to add interest to the sky.

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Near the mirador

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Worn, and newly painted

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Blue skies

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Geometric shapes

We soon came to another smaller square, the Praça Luis de Camoes, named for Portugal’s great poet but containing a monument to another Portuguese great, the medic Antonio Loreno, whose name the square is also sometimes known by. This is a relatively rare example of a place name in Plateau that has retained its pre-independence Portuguese name – most were renamed as part of the process of shaking off the shackles of colonialism.

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Monument to Antonio Loreno

Here we had lunch at the Café Sofia at a shady table overlooking the square - friendly service, good sandwiches, excellent fresh fruit juice (the passionfruit was super refreshing) and free WiFi - a great choice.

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Street art near the Praça Luis de Camoes

After lunch we walked north along the pedestrianised Avenida 5 de Julho, named for the date of the country’s independence from Portugal and one of the main thoroughfares of Plateau (second only to the parallel Avenida Amílcar Cabral which carries the bulk of the traffic). It has many colourful old colonial buildings. We passed the market, which was closed, as were many of the shops (this being Sunday). I liked the trees that line this road, cut into interesting shapes that form a geometrical contrast with the buildings.

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Trees on Avenida 5 de Julho

Plateau was the only built-up part of the city until 1880, so it is the only part where you can see these colonial buildings. The low structures and bright colours reminded me quite strongly of Spanish colonial cities we have visited, such as Antigua de Guatemala and Trinidad in Cuba. But the state of repair of many is poor, and while that makes for interesting photography it raises questions about how long the structures will survive. The country has ambitions to have Plateau listed as a World Heritage Site, which may incentivise repairs I guess, while also risking losing some of its character.

Retracing our steps to the Praça Alexandre Albuquerque we explored the area around the Presidential Palace which lies behind the city hall on its southern side. This was built at the end of the 19th century as a residence of the Portuguese governor until Cape Verde gained independence in 1975. I haven’t been able to establish its current use, but it must serve some sort of government function as it is well guarded by soldiers from a nearby barracks, the Quartel Jaime Mota. This building’s decorative tower reminded me a little of the Torre de Belém, with the four little corner turrets. I believe from what I have read since our return that it also houses, or perhaps is planned to house, a military museum, although I saw no signs suggesting that this is the case.

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Tower of the Quartel Jaime Mota

We also came across an incongruously situated children’s playground with kitsch-looking rides, right opposite the palace.

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Children's playground rides

At the edge of the escarpment that gives Plateau its name is a statue of Diogo Gomes, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the island of Santiago in 1460. And unlike many such discoveries, it is a reasonable word to use, as these islands were uninhabited until the Portuguese came here. Many sources credit the discovery to another explorer, Antonio da Noli, but it is thought that Gomes got here first although Noli got back to Portugal earlier with the news of the island’s existence. Santiago was the first of the Cape Verde islands to be discovered, with Fogo, Boa Vista, Sal and Maio also named in the same royal decree of 3rd December 1460 announcing their annexation to Portugal’s empire. Gomes’ statue is of bronze statue and stands eight metres tall on a marble plinth high above the bay, looking out to sea.

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Statue of Diogo Gomes

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Steps to/from Plateau

Descending the colourfully painted steps near here we followed the road round the bay where we were able to get a closer look at the Ilhéu Santa Maria and also met some friendly cats dozing in the sun by the police station near the jetty. The beach of Gamboa is not one where you would want to sunbathe or swim, by the way – it’s very much a working beach for the city and regrettably not especially clean. But it’s another great photo spot.

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Ilhéu Santa Maria from Praia Gamboa

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Closer look at the ruins on Ilhéu Santa Maria

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Every set of holiday photos should include a friendly cat!

Arriving back at the hotel we were able to get on to WiFi again and learn that Newcastle United had achieved a remarkable win over Man United!

A relaxing afternoon and evening

This was the warmest day of the holiday so far by some distance, with hot sun and the breeze pleasantly cooling rather than cold, so I decided to give the hotel’s rooftop pool a go, but the water was too icy for more than a very quick dip, so I abandoned notions of a swim in favour of catching up with emails, sorting photos and writing up my journal.

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Wine from Fogo

For dinner this evening we walked the short distance along the road to the Beramar Grill, recommended by Yulia from Barracuda Tours who had met us off the plane on arrival on Santiago. We enjoyed a bottle of wine from Fogo, Cha, which was a good accompaniment to my starter of tuna pastels (like empanadas) and Chris’s cheese and olives, also from Fogo. My main course choice of grouper was unavailable, as seemed often to be the case with our chosen menu items here, but the waitress suggested the wahoo as a substitute which was fine, if a little dry (despite the accompanying green salsa). Chris had the beef with egg and chips, which he enjoyed, and we both had refreshing fresh pineapple for dessert. All three courses, plus the wine, came to around 55€ - great value and a lovely evening.

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Tuna pastels, and wahoo

Posted by ToonSarah 07:10 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged food streets architecture monument history fort church square restaurants city praia cats street_art street_photography cape_verde Comments (8)

An island tour

Cape Verde day three


View Cape Verde winter break Feb 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Landscape north of Praia

While our bed at the Hotel Perola was very comfortable, we both woke early because of some noise on the road outside - the perils of a city base. We had a good breakfast in the hotel’s third floor restaurant, with views of the bay and towards Plateau, the oldest part of Praia. There were several hot dishes including the traditional dish of cachupa (a sort of stew of chickpeas and corn, fried up for breakfast) and eggs, but I stuck to the crusty bread, cheese and a small fish empanada. Chris was also impressed to see slices of pizza!

We had booked an all day tour with Barracuda Tours and our guide Luis turned up promptly at nine. He was to be an excellent guide, full of information (but not too much!), happy to stop for photos whenever we wanted and good company for our day out.

We drove north through the centre of the island. The weather was rather grey and misty over the higher ground, with the highest peak, Pico de Antonia, hidden in low cloud. But thankfully the wind had moderated a bit.

Botanical Gardens

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Views on the way to the Botanical Gardens


We stopped briefly at one point to take photos of the mountains but our first main stop was at the Botanical Gardens in São Jorge dos Órgãos. These are situated on a hillside and made for a pleasant short walk with some good views, but there was no real effort made to label specific plants and apart from a few trees such as eucalyptus and acacia, Luis didn’t point out very many. That was fine with us as we were happy to simply enjoy and photograph the views.

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Mountain view from the gardens

The gardens’ full name is the rather grand Jardim Botânico Nacional Grandvaux Barbosa, as they were named after a Franco-Portuguese botanist, Luis Augusto Grandvaux Barbosa. He had first conceived the idea of creating a botanical garden in Cape Verde and although the gardens were not established until 1986, four years after his death, they were named in his honour.

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At the gardens

Assomada

Driving on from the gardens we again stopped briefly for photos at a viewpoint marked by a cross from where we could see the town of Picos on the opposite hillside. This takes its name from several dramatic rocky outcrops in the vicinity, the result of past volcanic activity. By now the sun had made a welcome appearance and the day was getting pleasantly warm – hooray!

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Views of Picos

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Panoramic shots from the viewpoint

There were flowering bushes at the viewpoint which caught my eye, known locally as lingua de vaca, or cow’s tongue, (Latin name echium hypertropicum). Luis told us that these were the national flower of Cape Verde, although online searches suggest that officially that is the gerbera – I believe he meant instead to say that these are endemic to the Cape Verde islands, which they are. Whatever their status and name, these flowers seemed very popular with the local bee population!

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Lingua de vaca


We made a longer stop in Santiago’s second largest city, Assomada. Here we took a walk through the covered market, one of the most important ones on the island. I always find markets a fruitful spot for photos and this one was no exception.

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At the entrance to the market

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Stallholders

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Produce for sale

There was lots of local produce for sale – mainly fruit and vegetables but also side markets selling fish and meat. In the latter I noted the skill of the female butchers in wielding their huge knives, and also the bowls of live chickens for sale right next to their dead, featherless cousins.

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In the meat market

Upstairs is a clothes market and from the walkways here we could take photos more easily without fear of offending or upsetting the sellers - many of these photos were taken from there.

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View from above, and onion delivery

Once we had enough pictures we went with Luis to a nearby bakery and coffee shop, Pao Quente (one of a local chain), where we all had an espresso – good and strong.

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Scenery in the National Park

Back in the car we drove further north, through the National Park of Serra Malagueta with another stop for photos, and on to the concentration camp of Chão Bom.

Tarrafal Camp

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The camp seen from a guards' walkway

This former concentration camp in Chão Bom, on the outskirts of Tarrafal, made a real contrast to the rest of our day out. Now a museum, it commemorates a darker time for the islands, under Portuguese rule.

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Entrance to the camp

Also known as Campo da Morte Lenta (‘Camp of the Slow Death’) it was established in 1936 as an overseas penal colony, by the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, to house opponents to his right-wing authoritarian regime. The aim was to isolate activists from the mainland and, by incarcerating them in such tough conditions, to send a clear message to others that the punishment for opposition to the regime would be severe.

Wikipedia describes the conditions thus:

‘The PVDE [the Portuguese secret police force] modelled its camp regime on the Nazi concentration camps. Prisoners were subjected to brutal authority. Strict regulations were enforced and outside information was forbidden. The PVDE used physical and psychological violence against the prisoners, this included sleep deprivation, beatings and humiliation. Men and women were tortured for information on their organizations and networks in Portugal. The most severe punishment was conducted in a concrete cell called the frigideira (English: "frying pan"). Inside this windowless 6m x3m building, daytime temperatures could reach up to 60° Celsius. Prisoners could be held inside these blocks for days, weeks or months.’

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Prison uniform

There is a model of this frigideira on display in a small room to the right of the entrance, along with a prisoner’s uniform and a few other artefacts. A video tells the story of the camp but unfortunately only in Portuguese. It’s better to wander around soaking up the rather sombre atmosphere and relying on the various signs, which are mostly in English (as well as Portuguese and French) for information.

The camp was closed in 1954, but not before 32 political prisoners had died there. In 1961 however it was reopened, this time to serve as a labour camp, housing militants who were fighting Portuguese colonialism in Cape Verde, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau. The frigideira was replaced with an hollandinha, a tiny cell within a cell used for solitary confinement which can still be seen. It closed for a final time in 1974, when the Portuguese rule came to an end and an order was given for all prisoners here to be released. In 1975 Cape Verde achieved full independence and the camp was handed over to the newly-formed government.

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Looking back towards the entrance

It has since been used in various ways, including as a military base and a school, but became a museum in 2000. The museum focuses on the prison buildings themselves – cells, first aid post, store rooms etc. Outside the former officers’ and guards’ quarters seem to be still occupied by local people who moved in when the army base closed. The buildings are not in a great state of repair and there is little to see beyond the few artefacts I mentioned already, but the camp is very evocative. It is currently on the UNESCO tentative list as a possible future World Heritage site.

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Around the camp

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One building where more has been done to enhance the visitor experience is the first aid post, where signs describe one of the harshest aspects of life here for the political prisoners in the 1930s and 40s. Illness was unsurprisingly rife, and in 1937 a doctor was sent here, Esmeraldo Pais de Prata, with the task not of curing the sick but verifying whether their claims of illness were genuine or if they were trying to avoid work. He was, according to the description on the signs here, the very opposite of what a doctor should be – refusing to have unsafe water boiled, denying the prisoners medication (including that sent by their families) and approving their too-meagre rations. A quote attributed to him is displayed on the wall:
‘I am not here to heal but rather to sign death certificates’.

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The first aid post

Signs elsewhere focus on the later stage of the camp’s history, as a labour camp during the colonies’ struggle for independence from Portugal. According to these, for a long while Portugal denied that the camp even existed, telling the United Nations that rumours of its existence were ‘entirely without foundation’. The revolutionary leader Amilcar Cabral invoked the Geneva Convention with the result that a delegation from the international Red Cross visited the camp in 1969. While conditions at that time were not as harsh as during the 30s and 40s (inmates could, for instance, read books and newspapers in the library, have visits to the cinema and beach, and go to the hospital for medical treatment), nevertheless the Red Cross inspection led to some prisoners being released. A second Red Cross visit two years later was, according to the sign I read, a bit of a fudge, with only certain aspects of prison life inspected and little attention paid to poor diet and lack of medical facilities. Of course, history is written by the victors, and the Cape Verdeans won their battle for independence from Portugal. I have no idea if the Portuguese would tell the story of this camp differently.

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Another view of the camp

Tarrafal

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A beer with a view

The concentration camp lies on the southern outskirts of Tarrafal, where we made our longest stop of the day. The first important task was to have lunch, which was included in the cost of our tour. We ate on the terrace of the Restaurant Baia Verde and enjoyed very good tuna with a tasty olive oil and herb salsa, potatoes, rice and vegetables, washed down with a local beer, Strella, and followed by fresh papaya. We had great views of the two small beaches here – to our left the one used mainly by local fishermen and to our right more of a holiday beach although only a few brave children were enjoying splashing in the sea.

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Main beach at Tarrafal

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Fishermen's beach

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Fishing boats

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Locals selling water and coconuts

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Local children at play

Service was a little slow and the meal, while very good, took up rather more of our two hours here than we would have liked. Once we had finished we left Luis to relax and went for a walk around the town, taking photos of the colourful, if dilapidated, houses and the rather less colourful church (the Igreja Matriz de S. Amaro Abade). From photos I have since seen I think the latter must have been under some sort of restoration work, as these show it painted in white and blue, not the bare plaster of my photo – and indeed the rear part of the bell-tower was indeed painted thus, as you can see.

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Buildings in Tarrafal

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The church

I also grabbed photos of some of the locals, where I could do so discretely, and some interesting street art. Then we returned to the car to start the journey back to Praia.

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On the streets of Tarrafal

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Mural of Cesária Évora

The east coast

We took a different route back, following the east coast along a road that was for the first half of our journey surfaced with cobbles and therefore rather bumpy – but very scenic. This coastline is much more rugged than the rest of the island, or than anything we had seen on Sal, with waves crashing on the black rocks. The land here is also more fertile and the countryside greener, with palms, banana trees, sugar cane and other crops planted on terraced hillsides sliding down to the sea.

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East coast scenery


Driving through the small town of Calheta de São Miguel we encountered a children’s carnival celebration (a prequel to the main Mardi Gras celebrations which would take place on the island a few days later) and were able to get some good photos.

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At the children's carnival

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Grey-headed kingfisher

We made further stops in the so-called Valley of 1,000 Palms, near Pedra Badejo, and to photograph a grey-headed kingfisher, Cape Verde’s national bird, which Luis spotted on a telegraph wire.

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Valley of 1,000 Palms

We got back to the hotel about 17.30, having already booked another tour with Luis for Monday morning!

Quintal de Musica

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Restaurant entrance

We had dinner this evening in this popular restaurant in Plateau, the oldest part of Praia. While something of a tourist draw, it seems from our experience to justify its reputation, as we had a super time here. The service was very friendly and the waiting staff seem to really enjoy their work. They have developed a ‘party trick’ of balancing drinks on their heads as they move around the tables serving customers – bottles of wine, glasses of beer, cocktails. They are very good at it – I didn’t see a single spillage during the evening.

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Waiter's party trick

The food here was good – seafood soup for both of us to start, then octopus rice (a sort of Cape Verdean take on risotto or perhaps paella) for me and lamb chops for Chris, then slightly odd grainy ice creams for dessert. Portions were huge (too huge) and prices were reasonable too, for a place so popular with tourists that they were turning away anyone without a reservation – we paid about €50 or £44 for all the above plus a half bottle of Vinho Verde for me and three small beers for Chris.

As the name suggests, this place is known for its live music, which started a little after nine and was also very good – a young male singer with an excellent voice, singing traditional Cape Verdean songs including Sodade. The latter is something of an anthem for the islands, it seems – we heard it several times during our week here, reminding me of the regular renditions of The Girl from Ipanema which followed us around Brazil some years ago. The best known recording, which Luis had played for us in the car that afternoon, is by the famous Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora – you can hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERYY8GJ-i0I. The song is one of departure of loved ones and longing for their return, linked to the regular migrations from these islands but specifically to that of contract laborers who went to São Tomé during the time of Salazar, linking back to our visit to the Tarrafal Camp.

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Music at Quintal de Musica

I shot a few video clips to capture his voice and the general atmosphere. The picture quality isn't great because I only had my phone with me, but I think it gives a flavour.

Music at Quintal de Musica

We took taxis to and from the restaurant, and I was impressed at the ease of hailing them and the drivers’ disinclination to rip us off, charging the accepted going rate of 200 escudos both ways without any need to haggle. Our evening out rounded off what had been an excellent first full day on Santiago.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:13 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged landscapes beaches boats islands food architecture flowers restaurant history market praia music tour tortoises street_photography cape_verde Comments (4)

Where hurricanes are born

Cape Verde day two


View Cape Verde winter break Feb 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Local boatmen battling the surf

We awoke to another very windy day. It is in the Cape Verde islands that some of the most notorious hurricanes of the Caribbean have their origin, so it is perhaps not surprising that days here can sometimes be windy. Wikipedia explains:

'The average hurricane season has about two Cape Verde hurricanes, which are often the largest and most intense storms of the season due to having plenty of warm open ocean over which to develop before encountering land or other factors prompting weakening. A good portion of Cape Verde storms are large, some setting records. Most of the longest-lived tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin are Cape Verde hurricanes. While many move harmlessly out to sea, some move across the Caribbean sea and into the Gulf of Mexico, becoming damaging storms for Caribbean nations, Central America, Mexico, Bermuda, the United States, and occasionally even Canada.'

It is also perhaps not surprising that the world kite surfing champion, Brazil’s Mitu Monteiro, runs a renowned kite school on Sal, nor that the first world championships were held here, in 2011.

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View of kite-surfers from our room

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Breakfast view

After a good breakfast from the extensive buffet at the Sal Hilton, enjoying the views of the palm trees and cheeky crumb-seeking sparrows but somewhat buffeted by the wind, we decided that a walk on the beach was the best way to fill the few hours before we were to be picked up for our short flight to Santiago.

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Sign in the restaurant

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The beach near the Hilton, looking towards Santa Maria

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Surf's up!

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Windbreakers on the beach

The strong winds however made both walking and photographing difficult, whipping up particles of sand that stung our faces and raised concerns about camera lenses, so after a while we retreated to the relative shelter of the hotel grounds and enjoyed a good cup of coffee at the poolside bar there.

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Pool at the Hilton Cabo Verde Sal

Flying to Santiago

Late in the morning we returned to our room to pack the few things we had taken out of the suitcase for this brief stay on Sal, and checked out. Our taxi arrived bang on time to take us to the airport for our flight to Praia on Santiago, but after that any notion of punctuality began to slip a little. The flight was delayed by about an hour so we had a rather dull wait in a domestic departure lounge devoid of any facilities other than seats!

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Our plane to Santiago

When we did board, it was a smallish propeller plane ATR72 operated by Binter, the national inter-island carrier. There were some good views of Sal on take-off but we were soon in the clouds. Despite the short flight duration (37 minutes) the crew served a snack of still or sparkling water and a bag of salted peanuts and corn. While I know some people may be nervous of such small planes I rather like them and the stronger sense of flying that they give.

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Leaving Sal

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Up in the clouds

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First sight of Praia

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Coastline in Praia

We were met on arrival by a rep from the local travel company, Barracuda, and drove the short distance to our hotel, the Perola. In contrast to the Hilton in Sal, this is very much a city hotel rather than a beach resort, though it does have a nice rooftop pool. Unfortunately, the wind had followed us here, so there would be no swimming today at least.

We checked in to our comfortable room, decorated in a modern style with the inexplicably trendy frosted wall between sleeping area and bathroom. We spent a bit of time catching up on messages, which meant sitting in the lobby as the room WiFi was poor.

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Our room at the Perola

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Perola lobby

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Rooftop pool at the Perola

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View towards Praia from the hotel roof

First evening in Praia

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In Gamboa

In the evening we went to the restaurant next door to the hotel, Gamboa – a casual restaurant obviously popular with locals. Like a lot of restaurants here it specialises in fish, but there were meat dishes too, which pleased Chris as he’s not over keen on fish. We skipped the starters as we were brought a generous basket of crusty bread for the cover, along with herby soft cheese. I wanted to have the swordfish but this wasn’t available (as seemed to be the case with a number of dishes) so I chose cod instead, but was disappointed to find that this was the dried bacalau version and far too salty for my taste. I only ate a little but did enjoy the accompanying potatoes, as did Chris his beef and chips (his first choice of turkey also being unavailable).

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Cod and potatoes

When the waiter noticed my barely touched fish he kindly offered to bring a replacement, suggesting one of the other fish dishes on the menu, but I declined, as by this point Chris had finished his beef. My dessert of lemon mousse, while not being very mousse-like in texture, was sharp and refreshing and Chris also liked his fruit salad, but the best bit of the meal was probably the bottle of vinho verde we drank with the food, the same Gazela I had enjoyed in the Algarve when at the VT meeting there.

When the bill came I discovered that I hadn’t been charged for the cod - a very nice gesture and one which we rewarded with a generous tip. So overall a rather pleasant evening.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:20 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged beaches planes food hotel flight restaurants weather seas cape_verde Comments (5)

A winter break

Cape Verde day one


View Cape Verde winter break Feb 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Prelude

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Beach walkway on Sal


For various reasons we had left it late to book a February escape from the UK winter, and because of commitments at home didn’t want to be away for much more than a week, meaning that a long haul destination seemed less appealing - so much flying for so little time away. Hunting for ideas for somewhere new to go within easy reach of home and guaranteed warmth, I settled on the Cape Verde islands. Some of these are very focused on ‘sun, sea and sand’, which is not our style, but others offer interesting history, towns with local colour and attractive landscapes. Our choices were limited by our late booking, but an appealing hotel in the small capital of Santiago, Praia, had availability and seems to offer the mix of relaxation and sightseeing we were seeking. A stay there though necessitated an overnight before and after on the main tourist island of Sal, so that was our initial destination.

We left home the evening before, taking the train to Gatwick Airport to overnight there in the Hilton Hotel - thus avoiding a crack of dawn start and the anxiety that comes with knowing that you only have a limited time to make your flight and the Tubes may be having an off day.

Flying to Sal

On the morning of our departure we had an early start but only a few minutes’ walk to check-in and departures. This last minute package to the sun meant a charter flight with TUI, but also the bonus of access to one of Gatwick’s lounges, so we were able to relax over a complementary breakfast.

The flight time to Sal is about six hours. I was glad that it was a day-time flight as, being school holidays in the UK, there were lots of families on board with lively, excitable, rather noisy children! The weather was good en route and for the first part of the journey, flying over Western Europe, we had views of the Pyrenees and later the Algarve coast of Portugal - I spotted the network of lagoons off Faro which I had enjoyed exploring with VT friends a couple of years earlier.

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Flying in over the coast of Sal

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Landing on Sal

Although drinks had to be paid for, lunch was included in our fare - there was no choice but the roast chicken was pleasant enough and the chocolate orange ganache rather tasty. We landed on time in Sal, a bit disappointed to see more clouds than blue sky, but at least it was a lot warmer than the London we had left behind us, despite a strong wind (something these islands are known for). We sped through passport control, having pre-paid our visa (a good move, as the queue at that desk was far longer). The wait for our luggage was less speedy and while standing there I came to the conclusion that this is my least favourite part of flying - the anxious wait while every bag bar yours seems to be arriving on the carousel. But it was there at last and we left the arrivals hall to be greeted by a friendly rep from Barracuda Tours (the local agent used by Cape Verde Experience, with whom we had booked this trip), and a taxi to take us to our hotel for this one night, another Hilton, the newly-opened Hilton Cabo Verde Sal.

Overnight in Sal

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Looking out to sea from the Hilton Cabo Verde Sal


This Hilton couldn’t have been more different from last night’s, apart from the toiletries in the bathroom which were identical! A spacious lobby open to the sea breezes (or rather, today at least, sea winds); a large swimming pool and plenty of seating there and in several bars; a large and stylish room with a balcony which, while it didn’t have beach views, did look across some open land to a distant view of the sea and some interesting-looking buildings.

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Water feature in the lobby


The room of course had all mod cons - king size bed, huge flat screen TV, plenty of seating, storage etc. The bathroom was a generous size and could be left open to the room or screened off with sliding doors. It had both tub and walk-in shower.

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Our bedroom


We settled in and then took a walk around the hotel to get our bearings. We changed some money and reserved a table for dinner, but the weather wasn’t really conducive to sitting outside and the hotel doesn’t really have fully indoor spaces, so we retreated to our room to relax for a while there.

In the evening we went to the bar for a pre-dinner drink, where I enjoyed a good Martini with some very nondescript olives in it. In addition to the bowl of salted peanuts that accompanied our drinks, one of the bar staff came around with tasty little cod croquettes.

After our drinks we had dinner in the beachside restaurant, Bounty, which was very pleasant despite the cool winds. I had an excellent ceviche topped with salmon roe and served with a lime sorbet, while Chris enjoyed the beef carpaccio.

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Ceviche and carpaccio

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Tuna

My main of seared tuna with couscous was also good, but rather too large a portion, and Chris said his mushroom risotto tasted good but could have been hotter. We drank a glass of wine each (decent house wines from Portugal) and a bottle of mineral water. The bill was 7800 CVE, about €70 or £62 - pricey probably by local standards but good value compared with home. A nice start to the holiday.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:52 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged planes food beach hotel flight Comments (5)

Our last morning – and the sun shines again!

Paris day three

Saint Sulpice

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Place Saint Sulpice, early morning

Monday (my birthday!), and the Café de la Mairie opened earlier so after packing and leaving our bags at the hotel we had breakfast there while watching the comings and goings in the Place Saint Sulpice. The fountain in the centre of the square is known as the Fountain of the Four Bishops (Fontaine des Quatre Evêques), and was built between 1844 and 1848. A bishop looks out from each of the niches on its for sides, each sculpted by a different artist, but for me it is the lions that are the stars!

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Fontaine des Quatre Evêques

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The fountain's lions

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Saint Sulpice

Saint Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris, after Notre Dame. It was built in the mid seventeenth century, replacing an earlier Romanesque church on this site, and added to in the eighteenth century. From outside you can clearly see the mismatched towers – the result of a rebuilding project in the 1770s that was interrupted by the French Revolution and never finished.

I found the interior rather sombre and heavy but with some interesting sights. The pulpit is famous as the spot from which a leading figure in the Paris Commune, Louise Michel, spoke. But we managed to miss another important sight, a gnomon (according to Wikipedia, ‘a device designed to cast a shadow on the ground in order to determine the position of the sun in the sky’) in the form of an obelisk and meridian line, constructed here in the 1720s.

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Pulpit, and detail

We did however find these paintings by Delacroix in the Chapel of the Holy Angels (on the right as you enter). These depict ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’ and ‘Heliodorus Driven from the Temple’.

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Murals by Delacroix

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Stained glass in Saint Sulpice

La Butte-aux-Cailles

Leaving the church, we took the Metro to Corvisart to explore the area of the 13th arrondissement known as the Butte-aux-Cailles. My VT friend Don had written about the street art here in a blog entry (see https://operasandcycling.com/butte-aux-cailles/) and it looked the sort of place we would enjoy, as a change from the city’s major sights. And so it proved. We had a lovely stroll on some of the picturesque streets here - Rue des Cinqs Diamants, Rue de la Butte aux Cailles, Rue de l’Esperance.

There was lots of colourful and/or interesting street art, much of it by the same artist, Miss.Tic. If you look at the photos in Don’s blog, taken in 2013, you will see that many are different from mine, reflecting the ephemeral nature of street art, but Miss.Tic seems to be a constant here. She is a local artist, born in Montmartre, and her work has even been used in a set of postage stamps, issued in 2011 to mark International Women’s Day. You can see more of her work, all very much in the same stencilled style, on her website: Miss.Tic in Paris. Most have a political or feminist or other slogan, in French naturally. Some (but not all) I was able to understand:

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Graffiti by Miss.Tic

J’ai du vague à l’homme’ is a pun on the French phrase ‘J’ai du vague à l’âme’ – literally ‘I have some vagueness or emptiness in my soul’ but used to denote sadness, ‘I have the blues’, we would say. Presumably the girl in the image is feeling down because of a man.

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Graffiti by Miss.Tic

L’abus de plaisir est excellent pour la santé’ I believe would translate as ‘An excess of pleasure is good for the health’.

Avec l’amour le temps passe vite … avec le temps il passe moins souvent’ – ‘With love, time passes quickly … with time, it [presumably love] happens less often’ (the French verb ‘passer’ can mean ‘to pass’ or ‘to happen’, as well as a number of other things!)

The accordion player, whose face has unfortunately been defaced, is the work of another well-known French graffiti artist, Jef Aerosol (real name Jean-François Perroy). I am not sure if the intact one is also by him but it seems possible, although the style is a little different:

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Accordion

Zaira is a Swiss graffiti artist who uses bright colours in her paintings and stencils, often featuring flowers, birds or butterflies:

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Blowing a kiss

Zabou is another female street artist and is French but based in London:

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Garage door

Mosko et associés (real names Gérard Laux and Michel Allemand) specialise in animals and the giraffe is a recurring theme in their work. This was one of my favourite shots of the morning:

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Speedy Graphito, real name Olivier Rizzo, has been creating street art in Paris since the early 1980s and is one of the best known French graffiti artists, influenced by pop culture and Disney. This is another of my favourite shots - I like to include passersby in my photos of street art, to give them context. There's another of Miss.Tic's works below. The slogan reads: 'Mieux que rien c'est assez' - 'Better than nothing is not enough':

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Speedy Graphito and Miss.Tic

ALO (Aristide Loria) is an Italian artist based in Paris and London with a very distinctive style, using bright colours and geometric shapes. On his website it says: ‘ALO tailors striped clothes around his elegant female figures which have the same void eyes à la Demoiselles d’Avignon, but they are also full of life and emotions: sweetness, love, desperation, anger, madness, elegance and dignity. Beautiful stylised women; lost characters in the city corners, looking for life. ALO spots his subjects in the streets, he metamorphoses them and eventually brings them back to the streets in the form of works of art.’

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By Alo

I have not been able to track down any information about the other artists whose work we saw, but here are some of my favourites:

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On the Rue des Cinqs Diamants

From Don I learned that the quarter is named for a Pierre Caille who bought the hill in 1543 to grow grapes for wine-making. The vines are long since gone but this remains a peaceful and in places picturesque corner of the city in which to wander, with attractive architectural features on some of the buildings and side streets that suggest an earlier époque.

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Typical house

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Side streets

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The church of Sainte Anne de la Butte-aux-Cailles

Here and there we spotted cute little knitted plant holders, each with a tiny succulent growing inside. Someone had obviously been busy on their own personal project to further brighten up the neighbourhood - or maybe it was a collective community effort?

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Knitted plant holder on a lamppost

A birthday lunch

We took a break for a coffee in a local bar, and marvelled at the much lower prices here than in the centre of town, with our two coffees costing less than one in a tourist area. But with a train to catch we couldn’t linger too long, so late morning we took the train back to Saint Sulpice to have an early lunch in the Café de la Mairie where I had previously spotted cheese omelette on the menu - one of my favourite lunchtime choices when in Paris and just what I wanted for my birthday lunch! Chris had a Croque Madame and we toasted my birthday with a glass each of Bordeaux, before rounding off the meal with a slice each of tarte tatin - another of my favourites.

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In the streets near Saint Sulpice

Time to go home

After this it was time to collect our bags from the hotel and take the Metro to the Gard du Nord to catch our Eurostar train home. This was 30 minutes late in leaving (waiting for missing emergency equipment, according to the announcement), but made up some of that to arrive only 20 minutes behind schedule. Compared to the outward journey though, it was a much less relaxing trip, as we hadn't done the upgrade to Premium (it was more costly for this return route) and had a particularly noisy family seated near us. Nevertheless it was still a hassle-free way to travel, as always with Eurostar, and we were quite soon home, reflecting on a brief but fun weekend, and resolving not to leave it another twelve years before returning to Paris.

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Somewhere in northern France

Posted by ToonSarah 03:23 Archived in France Tagged art trains streets architecture paris fountain church city street_art street_photography Comments (7)

A wet Sunday in Paris

Paris day two


View Weekend in Paris 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Around Saint Germain des Prés

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Les Deux Magots

We had planned to have breakfast at the Café de la Mairie where we had drunk our aperitifs last night, but being Sunday it didn’t open till nine so instead we walked down to the Place Saint Germain des Prés for breakfast at the iconic Parisian café, Les Deux Magots. Despite its fame we found our pastries and coffees reasonably priced and the service friendly.

This is a good opportunity to mention that in six visits we have never experienced the haughty or downright rude service that other visitors to Paris complain of. The reason is, I suspect, our willingness to talk French. Often, indeed, waiters subsequently hear us talking English to each other and swap to that language themselves. The mere fact that you make an effort, however poor, is enough to win you their respect and courtesy.

After breakfast we took some photos around the square and in front of the church.

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Wallace Fountain, and café customer

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Le Bonaparte

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Outside the church

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Entrance to the church

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Saint Germain des Prés

We then went into the church, which is currently undergoing restoration. We could see the impact this is having as the section around the high altar is already completed and the colours of the wall paintings there are deep and rich compared with the sombre colours nearer the entrance.

Saint Germain des Prés is the church of a former Benedictine abbey on this site which in medieval times stood in the middle of the meadows (‘prés’) on the left bank of the Seine. It is one of the oldest churches in the city, having survived the disbanding of the abbey during the French Revolution and an explosion of saltpetre that was being stored here which levelled much of the abbey and its cloisters. The rest of the abbey was lost under Baron Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris, but the church fortunately survived.

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Stained glass in Saint Germain des Prés

The first abbey church was built in the 6th century on the ruins of a Roman temple. This was destroyed by the Normans when they besieged Paris in 885-886AD, and rebuilt between 990 and 1021. That Romanesque church forms the basis of what we see today, although it has of course been added to over the years.

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In Saint Germain des Prés

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St Anthony of Padua

There is a lot to admire here. I loved the murals of the saints above the arches either side of the nave (the work of Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and added in the 1840s as part of major renovations to the church) and the gold figures that adorn the tops of the painted pillars.

There is some beautiful stained glass, interesting statues (the one of St Anthony of Padua in my photo is in the as-yet unrestored section of the church and clearly needs work to remove the defacing graffiti) and the tombs of many early French kings and other important historical figures including René Descartes.

Leaving the church, we walked a short distance along the Boulevard Saint Germain. We ignored the Metro station here (other than to take a photo of its iconic sign) and carried on a little further to Mabillon, which would give us a slightly shorter route to our destination, Concorde.

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Metro station Saint Germain des Prés

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Metro station Sèvres-Babylone

Place de la Concorde

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Assemblée Nationale and Invalides from Place de la Concorde

We took the train to Concorde (changing at Sèvres-Babylone), where we enjoyed taking photos of the sculptures, fountains and distant views of the Tour Eiffel. The weather was dull and there was rain in the air, but Paris is beautiful in any weather, isn’t it?

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On the Champs Élysées

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Tour Eiffel views

At the centre of the Place de la Concorde is the gold-tipped obelisk, which was almost merging into the grey sky. This was a gift from the viceroy of Egypt to King Louis-Philippe, and dates from the time of Ramses II. But while the obelisk is the most defining feature of the square, I am especially fond of the fountains, and their deep colours (green and gold), and of course their wetness, made for much better subject matter on this gloomy day. My photos are all of the northern fountain, the Fountain of the Rivers, which has figures representing the Rhine and Rhone, and the main harvests of France: wheat and grapes, flowers and fruit. The one to the south is known as the Maritime Fountain and has figures representing the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and the spirits of maritime navigation, astronomy and commerce.

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Fountain of the Rivers

Although the grey weather gave us some photographic challenges it also threw up opportunities, especially when we went into the Jardins des Tuileries where local families, couples and tourists were strolling, enjoying a relaxing Sunday morning.

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At the entrance to the Tuileries

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In the Tuileries

Jeu de Paume

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Café view, and pigeon sculpture

We stopped for a coffee at a café on the Rue de Rivoli, before returning to the gardens to visit the Jeu de Paume, where our Eurostar tickets scored us 2 for 1 entry. On its website it describes itself as ‘an art centre that exhibits and promotes all forms of mechanical and electronic imagery (photography, cinema, video, installation, online creation, etc.) from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’. It houses changing exhibitions with a focus on photography and there were three on show when we visited.

Of these only one really appealed to me, a retrospective of the work of the early 20th century German photographer, Albert Renger-Patzsch. But there was more than enough in that one to justify the cost of admission, even if we had paid full price, and to keep us engrossed for some time. His work displays a fascination with the contrasts between the rural landscape and the industrial, and covers a period of great change in Germany, including both World Wars.

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In the Jeu de Paume

Although a historic building, its interior is stark and modern, with white walls and white marble staircases, and I enjoyed that as much, if not more than, the photos on display.

Jardins des Tuileries

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In the Tuileries


After leaving the Jeu de Paume we walked east through the Tuileries. This is one of my favourite spots in Paris. I love the contrast between the statuary and trees, the regimented landscaping so typical of the French style, the human elements of people enjoying the environment in various ways, and so on - all perfect for photography. As a bonus today, the Halloween holidays had brought out child witches and skeletons, and even a whole family of zombies!

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In the Tuileries

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Art in the Tuileries

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Enjoying the Tuileries

We had planned to have lunch in one of the cafés here before continuing our walk towards the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel (which I much prefer to its larger cousin at L’Etoile) but the rain turned much heavier and we beat a retreat back to the Rue de Rivoli in search of lunch under cover. Of course we paid a little extra to eat on this rather smart street in the heart of fashionable Paris, but it was worth it for the cosy atmosphere, friendly service and tasty food - Croque Madame for Chris, Croque de la Mer (with smoked salmon) for me.

Musée de l’Orangerie

We had hoped that the rain would abate while we ate but it was still pretty heavy when we left the restaurant, so we abandoned our original plan to walk to the Carousel in favour of Plan B, a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie. This sits opposite the Jeu de Paume at the western end of the Tuileries and is another of the museums offering 2 for 1 entry to those with Eurostar tickets.

Once inside I found it hard to believe we hadn’t been before! One of my favourite artists is Claude Monet and here his Waterlilies series of paintings is displayed just as he planned that they should be when he donated them to the city of Paris after the First World War. His intention was to offer Parisians a haven of peace: ‘Nerves strained by work would relax in its presence, following the restful example of its stagnant waters, and for he who would live in it, this room would offer a refuge for peaceful meditation in the midst of a flowering aquarium.’

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Monet's Waterlilies


The paintings are displayed in two oval rooms where, despite the large numbers visiting, the museum staff make a mostly successful effort to impose the restful atmosphere Monet had envisaged by encouraging low voices and of course banning flash photography. But how refreshing it is that non-flash photos are permitted, as I’m sure many people were paying the pictures closer attention in their efforts to obtain their own copies than they might otherwise have done (although personally I don’t get the current obsession with taking a selfie in front of everything you see!)

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Monet's Waterlilies

When you have seen the Waterlily paintings on this floor you can go down to the basement to see the other major collection here, that of Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume. This is the private collection amassed by the latter, a Parisian art dealer during the 1920s and 30s. His widow left the collection to the state to realise her husband’s ambition of creating a museum of modern art. The result is a very manageably sized exhibition focused on modern Classicism and Impressionism, with works by Renoir, Cézanne, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso and others.

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Renoir and Utrillo

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Gaugin and Derain

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Gallery visitor

We also visited a temporary exhibition, Dada Africa, which highlighted the influence of non-Western art on Dadaism. Here I found most interesting the examples of that non-Western art used to illustrate the parallels - African masks and wood carvings, for example. There were also some works by contemporary African artists on display.

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Non-Western art

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Contemporary African art


By the time we left the museum the afternoon was well advanced. We took the Metro back to Mabillon and stopped for hot chocolate (it was that sort of day!) at a pavement café near the station before returning to the hotel to rest up and sort photos.

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Casting of Rodin's 'Le Baiser' outside the Orangerie

Evening in Jussieu

For dinner this evening we had booked a table at a restaurant recommended by friends, as a pre-birthday celebration. We took the Metro from Mabillon to Jussieu, where we had a drink in a café on the Place Jussieu before walking to the restaurant just nearby, Le Buisson Ardent.

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In the Place Jussieu

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In Le Buisson Ardent

There we had an excellent meal. To start with I had wild boar terrine, while Chris had a wild mushroom pasty with a snail mousse on the side. Both were delicious, as was the crusty bread served alongside them.

My main was hake served with pearl barley and mushrooms - again, the fish was delicious and perfectly cooked, although I found the pearl barley a little dry. Chris liked his shoulder of lamb although was less enthused by the accompanying squash - not his favourite vegetable. He did however love his cheese, as did I my rum baba with figs - and they left the bottle of rum for me to add extra as desired!

After dinner we took the Metro back to Mabillon and finished the evening with a night-cap of Poire Williams in the O’Neil pub a few doors from our hotel in Rue des Canettes.

Posted by ToonSarah 05:15 Archived in France Tagged churches art streets architecture restaurant paris park fountain square city museum garden street_photography Comments (6)

‘We'll always have Paris’

Paris day one


View Weekend in Paris 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A return to one of my favourite cities

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Cité Metro station

We both love Paris - indeed, we spent part of our honeymoon there. But it had been twelve years, amazingly, since our last visit, so when Chris suggested a short weekend away to celebrate my birthday, it was the obvious choice.

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Boarding in London

We travelled on Eurostar and for the outward journey paid a little extra to upgrade to Standard Premium class, which proved well worth it. In addition to more comfortable seating in a relaxed, quiet carriage, we got a continental breakfast served at our seats - orange juice, coffee, croissant, roll and jam, yoghurt. This, and the friendly on-board service, made for a very pleasant start to our trip.

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Somewhere in England

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Somewhere in France


We arrived at the Gare du Nord exactly on time and headed for the Metro. We had to queue for one of only two ticket machines, where we bought a carnet of ten tickets. Then it was eleven stops on line 4 direct to St Germain des Prés, just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, La Perle, in Rue les Canettes.

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La Perle, Rue les Canettes, and our room there

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St Germain des Prés

We wasted little time here though, but instead headed out to start to reacquaint ourselves with Paris. We walked north past the church of St Germain des Prés (which we would visit properly the next morning) and turned east along the Boulevard Saint Germain.

We stopped to take photos of the bronze statue of Diderot, the 18th century philosopher, opposite the church. This was commissioned by a Comité pour la Libre Pensée (Committee for Free Thought) to mark the first centenary of his death (1784). Since then, it seems, someone has stuck a cigarette in his mouth!

Diderot was not always appreciated in his own time, and indeed was imprisoned for a while. His writing showed an understanding of the idea of evolution by natural selection, well before Charles Darwin developed his theory.

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Statue of Diderot

We followed Rue de Buci and Rue de Seine towards the river, of course taking plenty of photos as we went.

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Market in Rue de Buci

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In Rue de Seine

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Shop in Rue de Seine

On the banks of the Seine

We arrived on the banks of the Seine by L'Institut de France which houses the Académie Française – the body that protects the French language, or tries to, from invasive Anglicisations such as ‘le weekend’. Behind the impressive building is a small tranquil square named for a composer, Gabriel Pierné, with several sculptures and benches in the form of open books, and opposite it a statue of Voltaire.

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Sculpture of 'Carolina' in the Square Gabriel Pierné, and statue of Voltaire

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L'Institut de France - view from the square and river side

We strolled out on to the Pont des Arts, where a teenage brass band was playing, for our first views of the Seine, looking as lovely as ever. There is something unique about the air here – a sort of delicate diffusing of the light which for me defines Paris.

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View from the Pont des Arts

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Music on the bridge

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View towards the Ile de la Cité, and the Square du Vert Galant

Ile de la Cité

We followed the river past some moored houseboats and a few of the famous bouquinistes towards the Pont Neuf.

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Houseboat decoration

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Bouquiniste

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View of the Pont Neuf from the quai

Despite its name, which means New Bridge, this is the oldest standing crossing of the river and was the first Parisian bridge to be built without houses on it. We crossed on to the Ile de la Cité here, by the statue of Henri IV. This is an 1818 copy of a 1618 original, which was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution, when kings weren’t exactly popular! Some of the bronze for this copy came from a statue of Napoleon in Place Vendôme, which was melted down following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy.

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Statue of Henri IV

This has become a popular spot for the custom of attaching a padlock to a railing to commemorate a romance, and one enterprising young man was selling padlocks to any couple who felt like adding to the mass already on the bridge.

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Padlocks on the Pont Neuf

When we honeymooned in Paris in 1981 we had stayed in a very cheap hotel in the Place Dauphine, named for the nearby statue, the Henri IV. On our last visit we noted that it had been smartened up as befitted this rather lovely location, but today we discovered that it has closed down.

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Outside the Hotel Henri IV in 1981 and in 2005

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Place Dauphine in 2005

But the Place itself retains the tranquil atmosphere we remembered, with the addition now of several smart restaurants.

The ‘square’ (actually triangular in shape, to fit into the tip of the island) was developed in the late 16th century and was originally lined on all three sides by identical stone and red brick houses. Those on the eastern side were later demolished to accommodate an expansion of the Palais de Justice, while most of the others have been altered and/or added to over the years – only the two that sit either side of the entrance to the square from the Pont Neuf are much as they were intended to be.

In the shadow of the Palais de Justice a couple of games of boules were in progress, while elsewhere locals walked their dogs or relaxed on the benches. With no traffic you could imagine yourself in a small town rather than a capital city.

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In the Place Dauphine

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Watching the boules game

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Palais de Justice from the Place Dauphine

We walked round the Palais and on the far side stopped for refreshments in a pavement café, the Deux Palais, where we had coffee and delicious tarte aux framboises (raspberry tart).

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Palais de Justice

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Raspberry tart!

The Sainte Chapelle

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The Sainte Chapelle

After relaxing over this treat (it was just warm enough to sit outside and people-watch) we walked back across the road to the Sainte Chapelle, one of the sights I was keen to revisit. There was a queue to get inside, but it only took about ten minutes to reach the airport-style security checkpoint (all Paris buildings are on high alert, given recent events). Another short queue to buy tickets, and we were in. And it was as magnificent as I had remembered from our first visit 36 years ago!

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Gargoyle

The Sainte Chapelle was built as the private chapel of King Louis IX, located in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice, which was at that time the palace of the kings of France. It was commissioned by the king to house the True Crown of Thorns he had bought from Baldwin II of Constantinople and is considered a masterpiece of pure Gothic style. But you don’t need to be a student of architecture to marvel at its richness. Outside it has a delicate spire, some beautiful statues and some rather weather-beaten gargoyles.

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Sainte Chapelle, exterior details

But it is inside that its true glories are revealed. There are in fact two chapels, the Chapelle Basse and the Chapelle Haute. The former, where you enter, was the parish church for the palace staff and is relatively plain but still beautiful, although today rather dominated by the large gift shop along one side. At the far end is a statue of Saint Louis (the king was canonised after his death) and the ceiling is painted with fleurs de lys that look like stars overhead.

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Chapelle Basse columns

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In the Chapelle Basse

From here, be prepared to climb a fairly steep stone staircase to the upper chapel, which was the king’s private place of worship. Here you are immersed in colour from the 15-metre-high stained glass windows which glow from between the delicate columns that separate them. It is hard to believe that the building would be strong enough to stand for as long as it is, nor that two thirds of these windows are still the 13th century originals (albeit restored). Most represent scenes from the Old Testament, with each main window devoted to a different Book (information sheets available in the chapel explain which each is). A small number in the apse however show scenes from the New Testament, including the Passion of Christ.

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In the Chapelle Haute

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Window detail

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Rose window

The apse also houses a replica of the casket that once held the True Crown of Thorns; the original and its contents were melted down during the Revolution. And in addition to the glorious windows there are richly painted columns, friezes and statues of saints – a wealth of colour and ornamentation to stun the senses.

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Carving

Make sure to also step out on to the small terrace opposite the apse, beneath the rose window, for some different views and to see some of the marvellous detailed stone carvings in close-up.

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Looking back from the terrace

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Carving details

Notre Dame

By the time we came out of the chapel the afternoon had clouded over a little. We walked past the plant market next to the Cité Metro station to the front of Notre Dame. We had no plans to go inside, as we had done so several times in the past, but I did want to get some photos and luckily a hazy sun reappeared just as we arrived here.

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Notre Dame

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Gargoyles

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Details of the west facade

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The Last Judgement, above the main door

There was a small religious celebration going on, which seemed to be initiated by Mexicans living in Paris to mark the forthcoming Day of the Dead (although I’ve not been able to substantiate that with any online information). The air was heavy with the smell of incense, priests chanted, musicians played, and women in national dress gathered to join the procession of a banner.

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Religious celebration

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Traditional dress

With a nod to Charlemagne we made our departure and headed back to the Metro station and thence to the hotel, to relax a little before dinner.

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Charlemagne

An evening in the 6th

We started our evening with a drink at the Café de la Mairie, on the Place Saint Sulpice just up the road from our hotel, where I had a Ricard and Chris a beer. We then went for dinner at L'Enfance du Lard in the Rue Guisarde, of which I had read good reviews.

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L'Enfance du Lard

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Duck in orange and honey sauce

Our experience though was a little mixed. The red wine was good, and we liked the amuse bouche of crunchy croutons with tapenade. But we had both ordered the same starter, one of the day’s specials, which consisted of fried oyster mushrooms with Parmesan cheese and a poached egg. The portions were large (we could have been advised that one to share would have been sufficient), and the mushrooms, while tasty, were not very warm - I think they may have sat waiting while the eggs were poached. My main course, duck in an orange and honey sauce, was delicious but Chris found his steak rather lacking in flavour.

After dinner we had a little stroll around the Place Saint Sulpice and took a few night photos, before deciding on an early night to rest up for tomorrow’s sightseeing.

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Saint Sulpice at night

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The Mairie of the 6th arrondissement

Posted by ToonSarah 02:29 Archived in France Tagged bridges churches buildings architecture paris square river city street_photography Comments (3)

Travelling home

Arpino day five


View Return to Arpino Sept 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Time to go home

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Farewell to Cicero

But first a final breakfast at the Bar Sport and a few last photos.

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Local in via dell'Aquila Romana

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Above a door in via dell'Aquila Romana


The journey home was almost a mirror image reversal of the journey out, but with a few differences. The first of these was that it was Carlo's son who gave us a lift to the station, so Carlo himself waved us off at the apartment. We stopped briefly at a tabacchi in town as Carlo had said we would be able to buy train tickets there, but were told that not only was that not the case but that there was nowhere in Arpino, including the station, where that is possible - you have to go to the neighbouring bigger towns of Sora or Frosinone (presumably by train!) to buy them.

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At Arpino station

When we arrived at the station we saw that this is indeed true - it is nothing more than a couple of platforms and a shelter. There is a display board showing what trains are due and the platform they will leave from (which would be more helpful were the platforms themselves to be numbered!) and one of the machines used to validate tickets, but no sign of one from which to purchase. How we wished we had bought return tickets when we arrived at Fiumicino a few days previously!

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The station

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'Useful' display board - could this be our train? No - wrong platform, it turned out

So we had to board the train to Roccasecca without tickets, and that was the second difference between this and our outward journey. With the school holidays over, the bus replacement service had stopped and the train was running again.

The half hour journey passed quickly, and without any sight of a ticket inspector, and despite leaving Arpino five minutes late we arrived in Roccasecca with time to spare to buy train tickets there - only to find the one machine out of order and the ticket office firmly closed!

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At Roccassecca station

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Roccassecca station - our train approaching

Again therefore we boarded a train ticketless, hoping that any inspector on board would understand our explanation and be prepared to sell us tickets rather than fine us! As it happened, again no inspector came along, despite this being a considerably longer journey (a little under two hours). Nor was there any ticket check on arrival at Roma Termini, so without intending to we had travelled the whole way from Arpino for free. As I said, this was not our intention, and if any officer from the Italian railways is reading this, we would be happy to pay what we owe if you care to send us the bill!

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View from the train

Finally at Termini we found ticket machines that worked, so we bought two tickets for the Leonardo Express to Fiumicino before boarding our final train. This delivered us to the airport well ahead of our flight, with four hours to kill - the infrequency of trains from Arpino had meant that we had left much earlier than would otherwise have been necessary. But Fiumicino has a lovely new international terminal, with relatively quiet restaurants and seating areas, so we passed our time very pleasantly with a leisurely meal (great ravioli in butter with sage) and later a final gelato, for this trip anyway.

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Roman statue of a river god, on display in the international terminal, Fiumicino

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Roman statue of Appollo, on display in the international terminal, Fiumicino

Our British Airways flight left on time and passed smoothly, with good views of the Italian coast as we took off and of London as we arrived - I have even been able to make out our house in Ealing on one of the photos I took!

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Leaving Italy

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Arriving over London

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Blurry zoomed-in photo with our house circled in red!

Our arrival at Terminal Five was also smooth and we were home within an hour of touching down - just one reason we like living where we do.

Posted by ToonSarah 05:42 Archived in Italy Tagged planes trains flight italy Comments (4)

A flying visit to another ancestral home

Arpino day four


View Return to Arpino Sept 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Our wedding anniversary - 36 years and counting!

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We exchanged cards on getting up and then headed to our by-now accustomed breakfast spot of the Bar Sport where we took our time over our coffees and croissants.

Not your usual anniversary photo!

[Arpino has lots of these mirrors,
to help drivers navigate the hidden corners on its narrow medieval streets]

There was one quarter of the town we had yet to explore, Arco, so that was the natural choice for our morning's walk. We left the piazza by via Giuseppe Cesari in the north west corner, next to the Tulliano. This passes the small Piazzale San Francesco X. M. Bianchi where we had eaten dinner on our second evening in town, so we stopped to get some photos of the statue of the saint who was born in Arpino in 1743 and went on to work with the poor of Naples, earning him the epithet, the ‘Apostle of Naples’.

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San Francesco X. M. Bianchi
'The Apostle of Naples

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Home of Giuseppe Cesari

Next we passed the house where another famous Arpino resident once lived, Giuseppe Cesari, known as the Cavalier d’Arpino. The 17th century palace was partly pulled down when this entrance to the town was developed and widened, but much of it still stands and bears a stone inscription to the artist. I believe the doorway below this (bottom left in my photo) is the former entrance to the city which passed beneath the palace prior to the widening of the road here.

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Giuseppe Cesari's house - detail

Beyond Cesari’s former home the road widens further. This part of the town is known as Fuoriporta – ‘outside the gate’. The left-hand side of the road, now called viale Belvedere, overlooks the valley and the surrounding Lepini and Ernici mountains. We had already taken a lot of photos here, both on this visit and back in 1987, so we didn’t stop long today.

A flight of stone steps to the right of the Belvedere leads to the church of Madonna della Grazie (which like San Andrea yesterday was disappointingly closed). Like many of Arpino’s churches it was restored in the Baroque style in the time of the town’s greatest prosperity in the 18th century. My photo below left was in fact taken on one of the previous evenings, as the church façade is in shadow in the mornings.

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Madonna della Grazie, and the path up to Arco

Climbing further we arrived near a large 18th convent complex, dedicated to St Vincent de Paul – indeed, one of the nuns was collecting the daily newspaper from a mailbox near the top of the lane. The views up here were in some ways even better than those from the Belvedere as we had the church and other buildings below us to add foreground interest to the shots.

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Views from above the church

We passed through the Porta dell'Arco, also known as the Porta Romana, as it faces north towards that city. This is a 1900 replacement of what was the most ancient of the town’s gates and the painting above it, of the Madonna and Child with the Cross, is a 2016 copy of a work from the late 18th century, the gift of a local family.

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At the Porta dell'Arco

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'Madonna and Child with the Cross'

Beyond the gate we were in the labyrinth of narrow lanes and passageways that make up the quarter. These still follow the medieval layout which developed from the ancient routes that linked this part of town to Civitavecchia above. Houses are perched wherever there is space, and the steps that lead to them often hewn out of the stone of the hillside.

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Typical houses of Arco

We followed the main lane (you couldn't really call it a street), via Marco Agrippa, branching off here and there to explore little corners. I found this the most charming and photogenic of the different parts of Arpino that we explored over these few days. It is particularly rich in the sort of building details I take delight in photographing.

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Arco details

Plus, we met a friendly little cat - always a bonus!

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Cat on a balcony
[But he soon came down to make friends!]

The road brought us out eventually at the top of the wide flight of steps, the Salita dell’Arco, that descends past San Michele Arcangelo to the piazza, which we had taken yesterday after exploring Colle. Rather than take these again though, we carried on to the piazza Sant’Andrea in the hope that today we might find the church open. We didn't, but another friendly cat, this time black and white, made the extra walk more than worthwhile.

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Another new friend

Eventually though we did head back to the main piazza where for the first time in several days we found the small tourist information office open. This gave us the chance to enquire about options to get to Santopadre, the much smaller town eight kilometres away which is where Chris's grandmother was born (though she lived in Arpino before emigrating to England with her parents as a young girl). We had thought that by now it might not be possible to go there on this trip, as our time in Arpino was already coming to an end, but the girl in the office told us there was a bus that afternoon at 14.20, returning at 15.15 - the last one of the day. That would only give us thirty minutes or so in Santopadre, but it's a small place and we would at least be able to revisit the church where Francesca was (according to Chris's mother on our first visit thirty years ago) baptised.

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Santopadre in 1987

So we had some cold drinks and a snack back at the Bar Sport and then walked to the bus stop at the Belvedere a short distance away from the piazza. We had to wait a while as the bus was running late (or the girl in the office had mistaken the time) but at about 14.30 it appeared. We boarded, only to be told by the driver that we needed to have bought our tickets in advance at the bar next to the stop! Luckily he was willing to wait, and there were no other passengers to be made impatient by the delay, so Chris rushed off to buy them and we were on our way.

Santopadre

The bus climbed steadily through the olive groves, with some wonderful views of the mountains and back towards Arpino. The journey took about fifteen minutes, and because of the later running of the bus and further delay while we bought tickets, we had less than twenty minutes in Santopadre before it would leave again on the return trip.

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By the bus stop in Santopadre

We hurried to check out the church but like those in Arpino that morning it was closed.

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Chris tries the church door - in vain

At least though we had time to look again at the war memorial with the Quaglieri names, and to take a quick look at the picturesque lanes in the oldest part of the village.

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The war memorial

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Around the old village

Back at the bus stop we took a few photos of the rather spectacular view, and the waiting driver kindly offered to take our photo there.

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Views, and us, near the bus stop

Then it was back on board for the drive back to Arpino.

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View towards Arpino from the bus

Back in Arpino

Arriving back we decided to see if we could walk down from the Belvedere to the Roman tomb in the olive grove below. It proved rather a hot walk as there wasn't much shade, so halfway down I abandoned the attempt and stopped to take a few photos of my surroundings while Chris continued alone.

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View of the Chiesetta della Madonna of Loreto from below

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In the olive groves

Popular tradition has it that Arpino was first founded by the god Saturn and that this is his tomb. You may not be surprised to learn that historians disagree! But it is Roman. Chris has kindly let me have a couple of the photos he took of the tomb to share with you all here, as I didn't make it down there to take any:

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Chris's photos of the tomb

After that little detour we decided to head back to the apartment to cool off and rest before our anniversary evening out.

We started that evening in our favourite Bar Sport in the piazza with aperitivi - Aperol Spritz (naturally) for me and a beer for Chris. Accompanying these this evening were some juicy olives as well as the usual peanuts and crisps.

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Locals in the piazza

For dinner we went to the smartest restaurant that central Arpino offers, the rather classy L'ottavo Vizio on the via Aquila Romana.

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On the way to the restaurant

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In L'ottavo Vizio

This restaurant is in a lovely cellar room with modern furnishings and has a great menu - a lot of seafood but also classic pasta and meat dishes. We shared a platter of local ham and pecorino cheese to start with, as well as complementary bruschette. Chris chose the spaghetti carbonara for his main course while I had one of my favourite Italian dishes, tagliata. It was very nicely cooked, as were the rosemary potatoes I had with it. The house red was an excellent accompaniment to all of these dishes. I was tempted by a dessert of lemon sorbet but decided I was too full to enjoy it, and Chris also passed on dessert. Our bill was a very reasonable €37 which also included a bottle of sparkling water. A great evening to finish off our stay in Arpino.

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Antipasto and tagliata

Posted by ToonSarah 09:19 Archived in Italy Tagged landscapes buildings people architecture restaurant history italy doors family cats details street_photography Comments (4)

Monday, and Arpino is closed for business (almost)

Arpino day three


View Return to Arpino Sept 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A walk in Colle

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Lane near our apartment

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Madonna della Pietà church - detail

Monday in Arpino dawned bright and warm. We had breakfast again at the Bar Sport in the Piazza which was much quieter than it had been the previous day - no visiting band playing, no locals meeting to gossip before and after Mass, no children playing. Just a few other people having breakfast like ourselves and others heading to work or to the shops perhaps.

After breakfast it was time to explore another of Arpino's quarters, the Colle district. Our walk took us up the steep via Pio Spaccamela, passing the intriguing small 16th century church of Madonna della Pietà – intriguing because of the skull and crossbones above the door and, unfortunately, because of our inability to ever find it open. I read that it houses a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows by the Tyrolean carver Michele Stolz but we were never able to get in to see this, despite passing the church several times a day during our stay.

We passed the turning to our apartment and continued to climb, the road getting steeper. The views were fantastic, especially looking across to Civita Falconara where we had been yesterday.

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Views from via Pio Spaccamela

The road is lined with old houses from the 16th – 18th centuries. One feature of Arpino is the style of its stone door frames, with the family’s coat of arms carved at the top – the work of local stone-cutters, some of them rather fine and considered valuable, and all of them a delight to photograph (we had also come across some yesterday in Civita Falconara).

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Family crests on via Pio Spaccamela

After a short distance the road opened out into the Piazza Sant’Andrea, with its impressive church (dating from the 11th century) which was however closed. Had we been able to get inside we could have seen another work by the Cavalier d’Arpino – an altar piece which depicts the patron saints of the church and its adjoining convent: Sant’Andrea and San Benedetto. It was frustrating to find this second church of the morning also closed, especially as yesterday we had no such problems.

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Sant'Andrea

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Sant'Andrea details

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Painting on the
convent wall

The piazza in front of the church was once the cloister of the enclosed Benedictine convent which still stands to the left of the church in a building dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Behind the grilles on the windows, religiously guarded and only seen for the annual festival each December, when it is paraded through the streets of the town, is a papier-machè statue of the Madonna of Loreto, patron saint of Arpino, and its ornate wooden platform, carved by Stolz, which depicts the House of Nazareth carried by the Angels.

The Arpino Turismo website also describes a painting of the crucifixion among the treasures of this convent. It was discovered when a later oil painting was restored to reveal a 14th century tempura work on the wooden panel under the canvas. The website goes on to suggest that this and other treasures can be viewed in the convent’s ‘meeting room’ but we saw no way to access this, unfortunately.

From here we continued to climb, taking photos as we did so of all the picturesque buildings and little details.

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On via Pio Spaccamela

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Lanes leading off - up, and down

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Door furniture

Soon after leaving the Piazza Sant'Andrea we were greeted by a local man who opened up a large doorway to show us where he made wine and invite us to try some. He wouldn't take our polite 'no grazie' but insisted on pouring us a glass and refusing payment for it! It was really good too. Unfortunately he moved when I took his photo but as it's the only one I have of him I have included it below:

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Local winemaker

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In his basement winery

On we climbed to reach the medieval Gate of Saturn, another of the spots we remembered from our 1987 visit.

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Approaching the Saturn Gate

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Saturn Gate in 1987 and today

This is actually a double gate – above the outer side of the first is a Latin inscription, which I have found translated rather poetically as:

‘Oh wanderer, you’re entering Arpino, founded by Saturn, the city of Volsci, Roman community, the home of Marcus Tullius Cicero prince of eloquence and Caius Marius seven times consul.
The triumphal eagle took flight from here to the empire, and subjugated all the world to Rome. Recognize its prestige, and live in health.’

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The inscription

Passing through this we were in more open countryside with even more expansive views.

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View just beyond the Saturn Gate

We came across a small church which almost straddled the road - the Chiesa di San Giuseppe e Maria Santissima del Riparo, according to the notice board outside. This one was open, so we could go inside to admire the painted ceiling and other features.

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In the Chiesa di San Giuseppe e Maria Santissima del Riparo - altar and ceiling

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Details inside and out

I read later that the crucifix is another of Michael Stoltz’s works and that the chapel dates from the 16th century. Its construction across the roadway is deliberate, as in the past travellers would pass beneath it as they started on the then perilous journey across the mountains that lie beyond.

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Painting under the arches

We walked a little further. Our aim had been to try to reach the most ancient part of Arpino, Civitavecchia, and the medieval Torre di Cicerone, high on the hill above, but it became clear that the road was veering away from these into open countryside. So we retraced our steps to the Piazza Sant’Andrea to try a different route, the via Civitavecchia which runs up the right-hand side of the church, passing the Spaccamela Palace (not open to the public) and some picturesque old houses.

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On via Civitavecchia

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Another great view across to Civita Falconara

My notes had suggested that this would take us to steps leading up to the tower but with the sun becoming hotter, and the distance clearly greater than we had thought, we decided to abandon our plan in favour of exploring some of the other streets of Colle below us.

Sant’Andrea itself was still closed so we headed downhill a little and turned off on a quiet road that ran parallel to the town centre below, before descending a long flight of steps to emerge again in the Piazza Municipio.

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Looking down on the Piazza Municipio from Colle

By now it was lunch time but the bars in the piazza don't seem to serve food (other than breakfast 'cornetti') so we headed for the snack bar by the Belvedere where we got cold drinks and crisps - the best they could offer (despite advertising panini and tramezzini). As compensation for the simple lunch, we had the wonderful views from the terrace, and gelati back at the Baricentro in the piazza made a great dessert!

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View from the Belvedere, and a sleepy Monday afternoon local


We were beginning to realise just how closed for business Arpino is on a Monday, and were wondering where we might later find dinner. We consulted the waitress in the Baricentro and after checking with a colleague she told us that the only place open was the Splendor, about a mile out of town (and I assume named for the 1989 film of the same name which was shot here). So after a relaxing afternoon back at the apartment, with a break for a saunter down to the piazza for coffee (me) and beer (Chris) we set off on the walk to the Splendor in the early evening. It was quite a pleasant walk, passing on the way the fresco of St Christopher where in 1987 I had taken a photo of Chris, which I tried to reproduce.

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Arpino, at least, has changed little in thirty years!

We were rewarded as we walked with a lovely sunset:

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From the road to the Splendor

We had wondered if the restaurant might be busy, as it was the only one open, but when we arrived it was deserted, although some local guys came in a little after us, and later another English couple - like us, very relieved to have found somewhere open!

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The empty restaurant

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Antipasto

We shared a plate of antipasto to start with, which included a delicious fig. I was a little disappointed with my fettuccine with porcini mushrooms, as it was a bit too salty, but Chris's pizza was good and large; he gave me a couple of slices, so in the end we both ate quite well. Our stroll back to town was accompanied by the sound of the crickets and an almost full moon overhead.

Posted by ToonSarah 03:40 Archived in Italy Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises churches buildings streets architecture views restaurants italy doors wine details Comments (4)

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