Normandy, Brittany France

Looking for a place with a Brittany and Normandy touch while in France? Rennes, Saint-Malo and Mont Saint-Michel could be the answer.

        Purring, sweet cat

Rennes is in northwestern France, 350 km away from Paris and it is the capital of the region of Brittany. We had been there in 2011 and 2012. Our friends B and C had hosted us in their beautiful villa. Well, their cat was the centre of attraction for me. She used to come purring to me always. Oh, I miss her!

Rennes as a place is quite close to our hearts as P lived there for a few years. We went on a stroll to a local park called Parc de Maurepas and along the scenic surroundings of the popular technical university. We also met up with our dear friends. We had lunch at a local restaurant that had some vegetarian pasta  to offer us. The best part came when we went around the place cycling. I thoroughly enjoy cycling specially in cycling friendly countries.

Saint-Malo, a blue beauty!  Saint-Malo beach

It was a Sunday morning and our German friend S drove us down to Saint-Malo with two other friends. Saint-Malo is a walled port city on the English Channel. Wow! It was just splendid and so cool for a short holiday. We went climbing up the friendly rocks. Pretty plants adorned the rocks. It was blue-blue up above as we looked up the sky and it was blue-blue down below thanks to the sky’s reflection on the sea. Indeed picture perfect! We had packed some food from home for lunch and we enjoyed it sitting by the beach. That night we dined at a friendly Lebanese restaurant in Rennes. A couple of more friends had joined us. The owner of the restaurant was indeed chirpy. It was the birthday of one of the customers. He played a “happy birthday” song with a Middle Eastern musical background. All of us enjoyed it.

Mont Saint-Michel  View from the Abbey of St Michel

The next day, our hosts took us in their car to Mont Saint-Michel, which is a rocky tidal island. (Midway, we picnicked at a park.) The Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel is located at the peak of this island. It’s one of the UNESCO recognized heritage sites. We used audio guides as we went into the Abbey. The Abbey was huge and beautiful; it had centuries-old history behind it. We had to climb up steep stairs to get some best views of the Abbey (once used as a prison during the French Revolution). The Abbey also offered us spectacular views of the waves below. Btw, there is reference to Mont Saint-Michel even in Walt Disney’s movie Micky, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers. On another occasion, we were treated to a healthy vegetarian meal and dessert at a bio restaurant in Rennes. We were also invited over dinner at our French friends’ home one night.

Well, it was nice enjoying these three places with our friends. I have a feeling that we shall go there again! 🙂

PS: You just need to point your cursor to the pictures to read the captions.

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Pretty Paris

It was time for a rendezvous with one of the fashion capitals of the world: Paris. As you know, this capital city of France has inspired and attracted many a connoisseur from different walks of life.

EntrancetotheLouvreMuseum       Mona Lisa

A visit to the Musee du Louvre or the Louvre Museum housed within the Louvre Palace was a natural choice for us. You see it also happens to be ranked number one among the highest visited art museums in the world. We’d purchased a guidebook to the museum and it definitely added value to our visit. Btw, guess which painting in the museum was a crowd-puller? It was Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa! Well, you tend to look for it with a lot of eagerness, only to be greeted by a huge motley crew surrounding a dainty, little portrait!

Notre Dame Cathedral

We admired the Notre Dame de Paris or the Notre Dame Cathedral built in the French Gothic architectural style. We could see a group of little school-going children with a teacher explaining to them the significance of the Cathedral. An effective pedagogy indeed!

We decided to visit the Pantheon as well. It was here that Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille, Voltaire, etc were buried. It was a serene place with commemorative plaques of many such brilliant French minds being displayed around the burial areas. (It was different from the Pantheon we had seen in Rome.)

Sacré-Coeur Basilica   BurialplaceofLouisBraille

We walked uphill and went to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. It was atop the highest point in Paris and it offered a panoramic view of the city. We also came across local artists playing some soothing music for the passers-by. Caricaturists, painters, craftsmen, et al were seen doing their jobs gleefully. We tried the funicular to go downhill after the Basilica visit. We shopped for some souvenirs here as also near the Notre Dame de Paris. We realized there was no dearth of sleek souvenir varieties in Paris. The most popular ones were of course miniature towers in varied sizes and forms.

Arc de Triomphe       Galeries Lafayette

The Arc de Triomphe  was another monument of historical importance. The martyrs of the French revolution and Napoleonic wars were honoured there. As we strolled ahead, we hit one of the main hep shopping streets of Paris. We entered Galeries Lafayette in Boulevard Haussmann. It was a shopping mall that looked extremely elegant. We bought a wristwatch to gift our dear one.

As we returned to our hotel, we saw a pamphlet about Paris Walks. I decided to try it.  Excitedly I went to the meeting point of the walk the next day by changing metros. It felt good doing it independently. This was a 12-euro, guided walk for two hours on a scenic route called The Village of Montmartre.

Eiffel Tower-by dayEiffel Tower-by nightViewfromEiffelTower-1

Ah, the high point of the trip arrived. A dream came true for me when we visited the 320-metre tall Eiffel Tower! We went up to the summit using the pre-paid lift service. It offered a breathtaking view of the entire city. Wow, it felt on top of the world, quite literally!

Later we walked by the banks of river Seine, which happens to be one of the UNESCO heritage sites in Europe. We also went to the Jardin du Luxembourg or Luxembourg Gardens to enjoy some quiet time in the midst of nature. Btw, there was a Saravanaa Bhavan and a Le Grenier de Notre-Dame in the city that quite satisfactorily catered to our vegetarian tastes.

ViewfromEiffelTower-2
Well, I was lucky to have travelled with someone who had been to Paris several times. With innumerable sightseeing options available, you would never feel bored of this vibrant city. Paris welcomed me twice in less than one year. I’m wondering when I would go there next! 🙂

Marvellous Marseille

After our enjoyable trip to Cannes, it was Marseille next.

Marseille is the oldest city in France; it’s the second biggest city after Paris in terms of population. It is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

ViewfromNotreDame-1    ViewfromNotreDame-2

Marseille is a very popular trading port destination. It enjoys bright sunshine during most part of the year. It’s been designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2013. Importantly, we observed many people speaking English as well!

Upon reaching the city centre, we went to the tourist information centre. We got a map for ourselves and started to venture into the city. Along with the guidebook we already had, the map proved to be handy. The map deserved some appreciation for its neatly presented information.

The Vieux Port (old port) near the city centre was pretty vibrant. Fresh catches from the sea were sold in the mornings. We went on a boat ride. You could rent a yacht for pleasure. Btw, you could also arrange to have your birthday or wedding celebrated on a cruise. Restaurants were in plenty in this area; we treated ourselves to some veggie food. Of course, not to forget the souvenir shops. Handmade soaps (savon de Marseille), miniature yachts, perfumes, embroidered/lace hand towels, etc seemed quite popular. As usual, yours truly did buy some souvenirs.

A commercial building near La JolietteTo get a glimpse of the commerce and industry side of the city, I went to La Joliette Docks. These docks were a symbol of the thriving maritime trade of the 19th century. The area now houses commercial buildings and complexes, besides a few restaurants and a local market. I was thrilled to see a local market where I ended up buying a few household articles.

We passed by Stade Velodrome, a popular football stadium in Marseille, which had hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1998 and Rugby World Cup in 2007. There was some renovation work going on. Hence, unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the stadium.

Basilica (interior)

Marseille offered some of the best seaside views. A stroll by the vast and clean beaches towards evening was a scintillating experience. The glory of nightfall could be described best in this marvellous Marseille setting!

It was time to visit the Notre-Dame de la Garde. It was an ornamental basilica situated atop the city’s highest hill, La Garde.  Built in the Romano-Byzantine style between 1853 and 1864, the Basilica (made up of the lower church or crypt and upper church) was a wonder in itself. Wow, it also offered us a breathtaking, inviting, panoramic view of the beautiful city! 🙂

Filmy, Charming Cannes

It's Cannes!The likes of Brad Pitt, Ben Kingsley, Tom Cruise, Aishwarya Rai, Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, (late) Akira Kurosawa, Mel Gibson, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep and so on have walked the red carpet there. An International Film Festival takes place there every year. Mind you, the Festival is prestigious, large-scale and attracts a lot of global media attention. It happens in France.

Yeah, this time I’m talking about Cannes! Situated in the French Riviera, Cannes does set you thinking for a moment as to what’s so uncanny about it! Well, hang around for a while in La Croisette and you will find answers! The place seemed to be adorned with shops selling the most compelling brands in the world. The attractive bungalows around did deserve a second glance.

HandprintBenKingsleyHandprintSylvesterStalloneHandprintMerylStreepHandprintSophiaLoren

It was interesting to see (bronze) hand prints of most of the celebrities on a coveted pathway, Allee des Stars. It was somewhat like the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the US. We also saw Palais des Festivals where movies are screened for the film stars.

Yachts galoreNotice the cone-shaped tents

Cannes obviously was quite cannily built to attract the wealthy film stars and film makers. With huge yachts being docked right across the French Riviera, Cannes was nothing short of being an exquisite extravagant beauty spot for a fashion-conscious holidayer.

Preparations for the film festival were on with gusto around the time we visited Cannes. We walked along the main road and seaside promenade to get a feel of this little city. Glitzy cars whizzed past us. A few souvenir shops were seen, of course selling classy souvenirs. We chose to buy a cup. Cone-shaped tents (white in colour) around the riviera stood out charmingly.

Cannes, pathwayWe treated ourselves to some pakoras, naans, dal tadka and masala chai earlier as we reached Cannes. Yeah, we felt excited about having such food in Cannes! The chai especially was refreshing!  A Sri Lankan couple was running the eatery. Both the husband and wife were pleased to share their experiences of living in a hot spot like Cannes. They exclaimed that if only we had visited a week later (during the Festival), we would have surely bumped into at least a couple of the film dons. Perhaps they were right! 🙂

Nice la Belle

It seemed to be hip, hep and happening there. The place was buzzing with excitement and was mostly filled with lads and lasses – students and tourists alike!

Mediterranean sea

Possessing one of the best promenades in the world, this place was simply Nice. Well, the place itself is called Nice, aka Nice la Belle in French! It is the second biggest and the wealthiest city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. It enjoys good Mediterranean weather – no extreme temperatures as such to bother you!

There is always an exodus to Nice, apparently next only to Paris! So, you know what to expect from this French riviera!

Flower market, NiceWe spent a couple of days in Nice on our way to Marseilles. We went around exploring the city mostly on foot and some areas by tram. Nice did have some pretty lanes that hosted a number of touristy shops and eateries in the old town (Vieux Nice). The market selling flowers, fruits, vegetables, spices, soaps, etc in the cours Saleya area was in itself a major attraction thanks to the neat stalls. We had cappuccino and croissant in this area by paying absurd prices!

Herbs of the ProvenceHandmade soaps!

Handmade soaps and herbs – in a variety of flavours – are quite popular in this region. They could serve as souvenirs.

Socca is a popular local dish made out of chickpea (besan) flour and olive oil. We so much wanted to taste it, but we realized we had to be in long queues for this! We were short of time and hungry too, we quickly had a burger each and French fries. They just about managed to satiate our hunger! On another occasion, we tried onion rings and they didn’t disappoint us!

We noticed that Nice was indeed pedestrian friendly. After having experienced severe winter in our present home turf, walking under the mild rays of the sun was an absolute delight. The scenery around was bewitching to boot!

Promenade

The promenade (known as Promenade des Anglais or Promenade of the English) along the Baie des Anges (Bay of the Angels), a bay of the Mediterranean sea, was surely a beauty. Cyclists, pedestrians, joggers and skaters alike adorned the area. Wow – a couple of them skated rhythmically! What an elegant way to keep fit, I thought to myself!

Ah, of course, the sea was a cynosure of all eyes what with its resplendent blue colour in all its shades that could numb you for a while!

We stayed at a nice hotel in Nice. We were invited by one of our friends over dinner at his home. He cooked some delicious vegetarian food for us! Could we have gotten luckier than this?! 🙂