Friday, 18 August 2017

The Basilica of Saint Denis

Basilica of Saint Denis
In the north of Paris is Saint Denis. This neighborhood is named after the first bisshop of Paris, Denis, who was murdered in 251. He was decapitated at the mountain where is now Montmartre, but took his head into his arms and walked to where he wanted to be buried.

A shrine was built over his grave and it soon became a place for pilgrims to pray. The shrine became a church with an abbey and a very powerful one.

There were several churches, each new one more beautiful than the previous church, reflecting the growing importance of Saint Denis. It became a church for the kings of what would become France. They choose Saint Denis as the church they were buried in.
Being connected to Saint Denis, and to their predecessors, gave each king and each dynasty more legitimacy.

In total there are 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses buried here and 10 people who played an important role in French history, like the Constable of France Bertrand du Guesclin!

Bertrand du Guesclin. Much smaller than I expected!

It was in this church that the Gothic building style began. Abbot Suger (1080-1151) of the Abbey of Saint Denis was an important man. Not just the abbot of one of the most important and rich abbeys of France, but also the advisor of King Louis I. He began to rebuilt the church to make it more fitting for the many pilgrims that came to visit and this is seen as the first example of what would be known as gothic style.
The church is very beautiful. As most gothic churches, it it high and light, almost higher and lighter than you can imagine from such a large stone building.

In the church you can find different tombs and grave monuments. It it exciting to see the grave of king Clovis (the first Frankish king to become baptized in 500), or that of Bertrand du Guesclin or all the kings that played a role during the Hundred Years War. And even King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are buried here.
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
The church itself has free access, but if you want to visit the part where the kings and queens are buried, there is an admissionfee of 9 euro's. Which is worth it! And do not forget to visit the crypt, that is also amazing to see.

Saint Denis is easy to reach by metro, just exit at the stop St. Denis Basilica.
More information can be found HERE

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Bletchley circle (2012-2014)

Since last week I finally have Netflix. I think I must be one of the last people in the world to get Netflix, but I am sursprised by the diversity of the series and films they have.

I already saw The Crown and loved every minute of it, but I also discovered another series that I thought was really good.

The Bletchley circle is set in 1950. It is about four women who worked at Bletchley Park during the war, meaning they were working as codebreakers trying to crack the German codes to get information. This work was secret and they were not permitted to speak about it during the war of afterwards.

Then in 1950 women are murdered in London, and one of the Bletchley girls, now a wife and mother, sees a pattern. The police is willing to listen to her in the first place, but when it turns out she is wrong about the finding place of the next body, they do not take her seriously anymore.
Susan then brings the different colleagues together from Bletchley and together they work out who the murderer is.

I love, love, love this series.

First of all, the four women are all different characters and are well written. Each one of them has their speciality, Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) is good at seeing patterns, Millie (Rachael Stirling) has a knack with maps and languages, Lucy (Sophie Rundle) has a photographic memory and Jean (Julie Graham) is the organiser.
The four of them together
Secondly, the atmosphere of the fifties is really done very well. The furniture, the clothes, but also things like rationing and how the war was still very much a vivid memory for most people is realistic and feels true.
Rachael Stirling as Millie
These four women have a difficult position. They played an important role during the war, but nobody knows what they did and how intelligent they are. Susan's husband is nice, but he, (and most of the people in those days) cannot imagine how any woman would want something other than being married and being a mother.
The actresses are good, as is usually the case in a British costume drama! (can I say how much I love Rachael Stirling?) I also like very much how they react to the crimes. In most detectives there is almost a casual feeling when a corpse is discovered by a civilian, as if this is not a traumatic event. In this series the women are shaken up and upset and have very human and understandable reactions to what they discover. But this does not stop them.
I love the clothes and the hairstyles and they feel very true to the timeperiod as well. (although I did not like Susan's heairstyle, it is very ugly).
Millie especially has amazing clothes, she is a bit more glamarous than the others!
The murder cases are also well done, not over the top gory, but with enough suspense and surprise.
There are two seasons, the first season has one story told in three episodes, the second season has two stories, told in two episodes each. It is a shame there is not third series, because I would have liked to see a lot more of these amazing clever women!
Susan and Millie
If you love British drama series, and a murder mystery, try to watch The Bletchley circle. I do not think you will be disappointed!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Four days in Paris

Last week I was in Paris for a few days, with my oldest friend (we met in teacher's college and have been friends for 19 years now).

We have been on holidays together before and this has always been good fun, and I am happy to say that Paris this year was no exception!

So what did we do in our four days in Paris?

Day of arrival
We are very lucky that there is such a good connection between Amsterdam and Paris. With the Thalys you are in Paris in a little more than 3 1/2 hours. We took the 8.17am from Amsterdam and arrived at 11.35am at Gare du Nord.

We booked an hotel near the station, as I hate having to cross half the city with my suitcase before I can get to my hotel. We stayed at the Mercure Gare du Nord Lafayette and this is just 5 minutes from the station and is an excellent hotel.

That afternoon we went to Montmartre. We visited the Sacré Coeur, and then we walked the little streets of Montmartre. We really enjoyed our visit to the cemetery of Montmartre and were surprised by the seize of the cemetery.
After a good meal we walked back to our hotel.
Steep steps in Montmartre
In total we walked 12.5 kilometres. (more than 7 miles)

Day two
This morning we took the metro to the north, to visit the Basilica of Saint Denis (more information HERE).
In this amazing church you can find 15 centuries of French history, since many of the French kings were buried here. From Clovis (500 AD) to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
The church was beautiful and I loved this visit, especially since it was new for me.
Admission for the part of the church where the graves are is 9 euro's.
Basilique du St. Denis

Several graves of French kings and queens
Then we took the metro to the Champs Elysées, because we booked a guided bicycle tour that afternoon. Being Dutch, we are known to love our bicycles and we were looking forward to riding a bicycle through Paris.

We booked the Secrets of Paris tour and this was really good. It took us from the Eifeltower to the little streets of Saint Germain and the Quartier Latin, and along the Seine back to the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped regularly at interesting spots and the guide would explain a little history. We also paused to get something to drink for half an hour.
Visiting quiet little squares during the tour.
We booked through Baja tours (more information here) and they also have tours in English and German. The tour we took was 32 euro's per person.

Warning: Make sure you are comfortable on a bicycle if you want to do something like this. The traffic in Paris is much more used to bicycles now than it was ten years ago, but you still have to be careful. If you are not a good cyclist, don't do this.

The tour was supposed to take 3 hours, but it was 4 1/2 hours later when we handed in our bikes!! But is was amazing. I loved the little streets, but we also cycled on the Boulevard St. Germain and even for a little part on the Champs Elysées. (how cool is that!)

In total we walked 14 kilometres (over 8 miles) and we cycled for 16 kilometres (over 9 miles)

Day three
This morning we took the metro to the cemetery of Pére Lachaise. We wanted to find the grave of Jim Morrison, but somehow we missed it completely. We also did not find the graves of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde or Yves Montand. Yes, I know, I am not sure what we did there, but we did enjoy it!
At Pére Lachaise cemetery
Afterwards we walked toward the Galerie Joseph, that had an exhibition about Steve McQueen. I had seen the posters of the exhibition the previous day and I was very pleased it was in the middle of the centre. This was an unexpected little gift, since I am a huge fan of Steve McQueen. It was a very interesting an divers exhibition and I loved it. My friend, who is not a fan of Steve McQueen, also enjoyed herself very much.
Galerie Joseph is located at 116 Rue la Turenne and the admission is 8 euro's.
Part of the exhibition
After a good cup of coffee in a little café, we walked towards the Jardin du Luxembourg. We visited the park during our cycling tour the day before and both loved how beautiful the park looks. It is a very chic park, picknicking on the grass is not allowed for example. But there are plenty of chairs and benches to sit on and this is what we did. We sat in those lovely green chairs and read and rested and looked at people for the rest of the afternoon.
Jardin du Luxembourg
After dinner in the Quartier Latin we spend some time sitting near the Seine and then took the metro back to the hotel.

This day we walked for 18.5 kilometres (almost 9 miles)

Last morning
The last morning we did not have a lot of time, because our train would leave Gare du Nord at 10.25am, but there was time for a short stroll along the Canal St. Martin. This is one of my favorite spots in Paris and I have a little tradition that I will visit the Canal St. Martin every time I am in Paris.
Canal St, Martin
Afterwards we picked up our suitcases at the hotel, walked towards the station and at 3 pm I was home again.
This morning we still managed to walk 4.5 kilometres (2 miles).

Four amazing days in one of the most beautiful cities on earth!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What am I reading?

What am I reading at the moment? Well, I am enjoying my Summer vacation (four more weeks to go!) and I am so happy I have all the time in the world to read and do things I like.

Read last week
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Paris. During the trip I read Big little lies by Liane Moriarty. I never read a bit by this author before and had no idea what to expect. The only reason I heard about it because it was made into a series and Nicole Kidman is in it!

Well, I loved the book, I thought it was tightly plotted and well written, and very funny at times.
I also watched the series, and really liked this as well. Of course, the element of surprise was no longer there since I finished the book the day before I saw the series, but it was very good nevertheless.

I loved Nicole Kidman especially and thought she was perfect for the role.
On the minus side I hated the actress that played Jane. I have no idea who she is and I have no intention of looking it up, but I thought she was wooden and horrible and terribly miscast.

Reading at the moment 
At the moment I am reading a Dutch novel about the Dutch colonial war in Indonesia and the effect this had on the father of the author. It is beautiful and at some points almost unreadable because so many awful things happened in those days. But is is very, very good.

I am also reading a beautiful novel by French author Patrick Modiano. I love his works and although I have no idea which one this is in English, I can recommend each and every one of his books!

I also read a book about the history of Paris, I can never read enough about the history of cities I love. This one is Paris, the secret history by Andrew Hussey. I am only on page 113 and I still have almost 400 to go, but so far I love it! It is well written, interesting and full of anecdotes and amazing little facts.

Bought today!
Today I met a friend in Amsterdam. We went to Mass together and then we had coffee and chatted. Afterwards I went to Waterstones, the English bookstore in the Kalverstraat and then I also visited the American Book Centre that is located almost across the street.

In total, I bought these four books.
The beguiled by Thomas Cullinan is now also made into a film with Nicole Kidman, and I had my eye on it for a while. I did not know it was based on a novel, but when I saw it, I had to buy it. After all, I do like that Southern Gothic vibe!

I never read a book by Annie Proulx before, but this one, Barkskins, sounded very good, so I took a chance.

The other two books I bought at the ABC. Bad days in history is a fun book with a terrible fact of something that went wrong in history for every day of the year.

The last book is To the letter, a history of letter writing through the ages, with examples of fine letterwritters in history and literature. I am looking forward to this and I think I will put it on my nightstand.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Absent in the Spring, Mary Westmacott

Joan Scudamore travels from Iraq back to England. In Iraq she helped her youngest daughter who just had a baby, but now she is on her way back to her husband.

Joan is quite pleased with her life and how things turned out. Her husband Roddy is a country solicitor, and both her daughters and her son are married and happy. She herself has a lovely life.

But when the train she is supposed to take is not able to be on time due to the rains, Joan finds herself stuck in a hotel in the middle of the desert. She read both her books and has no paper to write letters and no needlework. She had nothing to do but think.

And gradually she realizes that her life may not be so perfect as she thinks. Her husband is not happy, and her children were also not happy in her house. Joan always decided what was best for them, without giving any thought to what they wanted or liked. More and more she realizes she needs to change things, beginning the moment she will arrive home with Rodney.

This book was written by Agatha Christie, but under her penname Mary Westmacott. This is not a detective, but a novel, and I had no idea what to expect from it. But I can tell you that I really enjoyed it. The writing is very good, like we know Agatha Christie could write, with good observations and natural dialogues.

I liked how Joan first does not want to acknowledge what she knows deep in her heart, and how she tries to find excuses for all the little incidents that happened in the past, telling her how her view differs from that of everybody else. But gradually, in the hot sun and with no company or distraction giving her a way out she must accept that her life is not as perfect as she wants it to be.

And I also loved the ending. I will not tell more, because I do not want to spoil it, but I thought it was realistic and true.

Absent in the Spring is a perfect little novel, and I am glad I also have the other books by Mary Westmacott, because I think I will enjoy those as well.

Published in 1944

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A few museums in Bologna

Bologna is a beautiful city, full of old buildings and loads of history, but at the same time it is a very lively and hip city, because there are so many students.

I spent 2 1/2 days there and of course there is much I have not seen, but if you go there, these are a few museums I really liked and that I recommend.

The Museum of Modern Art of Bologna is absolutely worth a visit. It has some beautiful works, both paintings and sculptures by 20th and 21th century (Italian) artists.
I especially loved the collection of works by Giorgio Morandi, he has now become one of my favorite painters!
Via Don Minzoni 14
Admission: 6 euro's.

Museum of the history of Bologna
A very modern museum, that takes you through the ages of Bologna's rich history. It starts on the Etruscan road and it ends in the present, showing you how Bolgona changed and grew, and how important the role of Bologna was in earlier centuries. Very interesting and very well done.
I would advice you to take the audio tour, since all the explaination is in Italian, and the audiotour is available in several languages.

I would have loved to see more about the present time, especially the period of WWII (partisans) and the difficult years of the sixties, seventies and eighties (bombings). But perhaps this is still too close for some people to be completely open about it.

Via Castiglione 8
Admission 11 euro's

Museum of Medieval history of Bologna
I loved this almost oldfashioned museum. It does not have a clear route through the museum, but that adds to the fun, in my opinion. There are several rooms on different levels of this medieval palazzo housing a lovely collection of medieval books (breathtaking), armory, religious items, paintings and for example little statues carved from ivory. The items date from the early middle ages to the 15th century.
Each room hides treasures, and it is a surprise where you will end up. The courtyard is lovely as well.

Via Manzoni 4
Admission 6 euro's

Zoological museum
Part of the University of Bologna and free of charge. It is in some ways a very old-fashioned museum, but that is for me part of the charm. It has just rows and rows and rows of glass cabinets, filled with stuffed animals. In that resepct it is also a history lesson of what academics in the 18th and 19th century  thought important and how museums have changed.

The ground floor houses the huge collection of birds, put together in the 18th and 19th century. These collections are grouped together by country or continent.
The first floor has the collection of mammals and some other species like fish, and on the top floor you find the skeletons of several species. Very interesting to see how actually, most skeletons are the same for each species. There is not much difference between the skeletons of a monkey, a cat or a human.

Via Francesco Selmi 3
Admission: free

Friday, 21 July 2017

Summer Vacation

Nothing says more Summer holiday to me than these photographs of Marilyn Monroe on the beach. As from today I have six weeks of free time, all the time I want to read, draw and go to amazing exhibitions.
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