Archive for February 12th, 2011

February 12, 2011

Madrid,Puerta de Alcala and Fuente de Cibeles

The two most emblematic symbols of Madrid for me. Why because I lived closed to the two for four years. If you need any more excuse. They carry the show me of a wonderful Madrid, and Cibeles is the symbol of my beloved Real Madrid FC, center of all its glorious celebrations as the best club in the history of the game.

A bit about the Plaza de Cibeles where the fountain or Fuente is located, its one of the most beautiful in Madrid.  It sits in the junction of Paseo del Prado,and Calle Alcala (my street !). The sculpture fountain is named after Cybil, the Greco-Roman goddess of nature, showing her sitting in a chariot drawn by lions. The design is from 1781 ordered by king Carlos III, and it once provided water to the citizens until 1862.  Around the square or Plaza you will see important buildings such as the Palacio de Communicaciones , once the central post office, and today its the mayor’s office of Madrid, built between 1905-1917. At the northeast side of the square you have the Palacio de Linares, built in 1875, now houses the Casa de America or House of America displaying a collection of paintings from Latin America artists. In the northwest portion of the square, you have the guarded Army headquarters which is house in the building of the old Palacio de Buenavista, first ordered built by the Duchess of Alba in 1777. On the opposite corner you have the Banco de España or the Bank of Spain, built between 1884-1891.  The Cibeles is the meeting place for all victories of the fame Real Madrid football/Soccer team every time any championship is won, which has been often. FIFA club of the 20th century and still battling for the 21st. Reach it on metro Banco de España line 2

The Puerta de Alcala , or arch door of Alcala . It is,was the grandest monument erected by king Carlos III in his attempt to improve the looks of eastern Madrid. Designed by Sabatini to replaced a smaller baroque gateway that was built by king Felipe III for entry into Madrid of his wife Margaret of Austria. The Gateway or door was built between 1769-1777 using granite in Neo-Classical style; it has five arches, three central and two outer rectangular ones. Until the 19C the gateway mark the city’s easternmost boundary; it now stands in the busy Plaza de la Independencia or Independance square.  In its central high panel on the attic of both sides you will read the Lation inscription “Rege Carolo III. Anno MDCCLXXVIII  (Being King Carlos III, year 1778). In the exterior inscription you will see a coat of arms held by Fame and Genius with children sculptures on both sides. In the interior facade on the lateral arches you will see four cardinal virtues such as Prudent, Justice, Balance, and Force.  Just at the plaza de la Independencia, you will have an entrance to the parque Retiro or Retiro park, and the church of Manuel and Benito, my hangout places.  Reach it on Metro Retiro line 2

The Madrid metro webpage is

For tourist information in city of Madrid, webpage

For the tourist info in the Comunidad de Madrid or region of Madrid webpage

Enjoy Madrid, as to Madrid to heaven and a hole in the sky to look down on it every day /Cheers

February 12, 2011

Sacre Coeur, Montmartre and quaint Paris

One of the most see and must stop on your way to Paris. The historical center of a wonderful district ,a city in its right call Montmartre.   The hill of martyrs as in English, no heroes of any sort, but those earlier Christians who gave it all for the faith. Here Saint Denis was beheaded by pagans lords, but He continue to preach all the way to Saint Denis where now is his Basilica de Saint Denis;all begun at Montmartre.

Here you have the wine harvest the only one left in Paris, with the vinyards celebration every year with a nice festival. Here is the nightclubs all beamings like Moulin Rouge, and Lapin Agile. The hilly streets full of nostalgia, and the impressive church of Saint Pierre( 12C). But all is small when we compare it to Sacre Coeur, the holy cross ,the church on the hill of martyrs=Montmartre.

This is my humble take on it, and hope you will visit it too.

Ordered built by a National cry in 1873 , it is the second most visited place in France . Help pay for its construction by a National call of reconciliation and the French gave , a lot. The church was finally completed in 1914 but not  consacrated then on 1919 after the end of WWI. It was not really totally finished that until 1923. The style is Greek cross(neo byzantine)  with a huge dome of 83 meters ( 274 ft). Inside  in the ceiling the back of altar is decorated with the biggest mosaic in France covering a surface of  474 sq meters (5100 sq ft).  Built between 1918-1922, representing the sacre heart of Jesus glorified by the Catholic Church and France. At the base there is the inscription  « Au Cœur très saint de Jésus, la France fervente, pénitente et reconnaissante. » or At the heart of the very saints of Jesus, France passionate, penitent and acknowledge. It has ,also, the heaviest bell in France call the Savoyarde, weighting almost 19K kilograms   with 3 meters in diameter ! The organ is one of the most historical significance as well  having been transferred to the Basilica in 1919.

To get here, the easiest are the Funiculaire de Montmartre or the Montmartrebus (stop Place du Tertre) , by metro the stations closest are Anvers line 2 and Abbesses line 12. You can ,also, walk up the stairs , nice to do if you can. The admission is free.  The official Paris transport site will tell you the best way or you can ask me. . For more detail information you can contact the Basilica by email at

You can see the whole of Paris by standing in the parvis in front of the Basilica, high of 200 meters above sea level given a panoramic view as far as 50 kms (31 miles). This is the official webpage of the Basilica which you can read in English as well

For a more in depth look at Montmartre in general this is the webpage of folks from the city , oh yes Montmartre.  Plenty of lodgings in the area, but since live nearby have no direct experience with any, the Ibis and Mercure are from the very good French chain ACCOR so they are all reliable. Aparthotels Citadine and Adagio are good source names too.

As far as place to eat ,oh yes eating in the Butte is glorious and you will love it. My favorites there over the years have been the Le Moulin de la Galette web  , Le Colibri, web , the La  Bonne Franquette ,web , the brasserie Chez Eugene is an old family favorite, my first meal ever at the Butte de Montmartre was here back in 1991! web

Just walk as much as you can here, the whole area if full of charm,many movies,and history that keeps bringing folks to Paris emerge from here. Like the great movie Le Fabuleux Destin d’ Amélie Poulain made famous at the Cafe des deux Moulin, 15 rue Lepic (now historic but the food is not too good) , and the great ateliers or shops of Painters like the Halles Saint Pierre web ,and the museum of Montmartre, web .The Clos Montmartre at rue des Saules with its vinyards, and the great Fete des Vendages de Montmartre, web here  The old moulin de la galette at rue lepic and the moulin Radet at rue girardon, the remaining windmills of Montmartre. And just by 22 rue des Saules my old time favorite French cabaret Lapin Agile web

Hope you get your highs while looking the beautiful scenes of Paris from the hill=butte, at night is sublime,and if clear day awesome. Cheers

February 12, 2011

Versailles parks,Zoo, and the Potager

Moving right along in my wonderful Versailles. There is plenty to see and do here, you just need more time than the just the Castle. I like to tell you a bit about the Arboretum, Bartabas and his horses, the Potager du roi, Parc Balbi , and a bit away but link in my region the parc animalier,chateau de Thoiry.

The city limits has the extension of the Chateau de Versailles in its northern borders way beyond what you normally see at the Grand Canal, here the old domaine now greatly reduce gives way to a forest of trees, it is call the Arboretum de Chévreloup! Created in 1924 it gives you a tour of the world in trees covering an area of 50 hectares ( 123.5 acres). You will follow trails showing trees from far away regions as the Himalaya,Europe,China,Japon,Caucausian range, USA, Canada, etc. You will find a trail of cedar trees from the Atlas mountains, Ecus ,Sequoias, maple syrup erables trees, sycomores,also fruit trees like prunes, apples,and flower trees like paulownias. The total area is 200 hectares (494 acres) but not all open to the public, preserving about 2 500 species of trees. An oasis in Versailles. The best way to go there is from Versailles gare d’Europe by ave Saint Cloud, take bus no 19 to stop Parly II/Arboretum, then just walk across the street; If you are coming straight from Paris at gare rive gauche RER station, there cross the street and take local bus H. The park is open from April 1 to November 15, mondays,wednesdays,saturdays,and sundays from 10h to 18h. Contact tel +33 01 39 55 53 80. official webpage in French

One close to heart is the Académie du spectacle équestre led by its director Bartabas. If you love horses with themes of history you will love it. It is located at the Grande Ecurie of the castle right across the street from pl d’Armes the building to your left. You will see lusitanians horses, high above riders, fencing on a horse, choreographies of many actions and jockey changes by the master Bartabas. There are seances in the mornings call Matinales des Ecuyers with baroque music , you can visit the stables or ecuries or a visit to just the building done by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the architect of the court in 1683, which was renovated for this spectacle in 2003. The stables keep about 40 horses today. Again to get here is the same as to the chateau, from Paris RER C to rive gauche and walk maybe 7-10 mins to it. The info at official webpage programs for 2011 here

Another pastime and great on wednesday market day is the Potager du roi.  At the request of king Louis XIV, gardener Jean-Baptiste de la Quintinie made this vegetable/fruit garden between 1678-1683.  It provided the king with its own supplies of veggies well done for his taste. The design is of three central trails of about 3 hectares ( 7,4 acres) divided into 16 squares all around a fountain. At the center of each square, surrounded by fruit trees, you have rounds of vegetables flourishing. You will have a wonderful view of this from the terraces. You will discover about 12 enclosed gardens with its collection of fruit trees where still the art of growing them continues. You can,also, with time take a course in gardening at this wonderful place. The location is at 10 rue du Maréchal Joffre, just in front of the Cathedrale Saint Louis. You can come from Paris on the RER C to rive gauche, take a left to rue du Gal Leclerc and  take left on Maréchal Joffre, about 10 mins walking. It is open from April 1 to October 31 every day except Mondays from 10h to 18h, and from November 1 to March 31 the tuesdays and thursdays from 10h to 13h. However these are the general times, it can change each year see the webpage to follow, admission is 3€ .

One more park I like to mention that is very near the potager du roi is the Parc Balbi. It is part of the historical heritage of the city and very often overlook by visitors, but a wonderful park to visit as well.  You will go to very narrow old streets of old Versailles, the park itselt is 2,6 hectares ( 6.4 acres) and you access it by 12 rue  du Maréchal Joffre.  In 1785 the count of Provence (brother of king Louis XVI , and future king Louis XVIII) and the countess of Balbi buys the land here; touse as enjoyment for the countess Balbi. The garden is done in 1786 by gardener/architect Chalgrin. In 1791 in the French revolution they had to leave, and in 1792 the plants and vegetables, trees of it are taken and transfer to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. After the revolution, many owners pass by the park until finally in 1828 it is sold to the State.  In 1907 the school Jules Ferry is located here and a door had access to the Potager du roi. In 1914 the park is given to the horticulture school., and with the coming of WWI the park is left abandoned, until 1930 again it is renovated.  During WWII the park is again abandoned until 1960 a new plan of renovation takes effect.  Finally in 1982 the park is open to the public all done. It has a cave original from its creation in 1786 deep in the forest of the park, to reach it from the Potager du roi only. Very nice area.  It is open during the school holidays in the area, and normally Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from 9h to 17h, sometimes later in summer. The official webpage is this one still not all operational you can see more at the potager du roi webpage above.

Then,we move a bit away from Versailles to go to the central Yvelines my department to see Thoiry. Here you have the Castle and the Park/gardens .  The castle was built in 1559 AD in renaissance style built in only five years! It is still own by the same family! the Count of Panouse! You can visit it alone or guide tour dress for the occasion in period costume. You will hear stories of the belle Angelique and Charles in a romantique story of 6000 pages long of letters. The children can play a game of enigmes or riddles in English, and come out with a diploma passing the test. Open from February to October from 11h to 18h normally but again check the webpage for official details as it may change with the seasons. Then you move on to the park/gardens, it has an African safari reserve with several recreation of mountains and steppes, the animals for a part are free roaming. You can ,also, get lost in one of the biggest laberinth in Europe. The hours here can change with the season so check the official webpage. The best way to come here is by car, as public transport wont reach this deep wood area of the Yvelines. Autoroute A13  direction Rouen, then A12 direction Lyon etc then N12 direction Dreux, take exit Thoiry on the D76 then follow on the D11 direction Thoiry. The webpage tells of a trip on Paris Vision, you can inquiry as never taken it from rue de rivoli in Paris from may to september. official webpage in English here

To eat or stay I suggest the Auberge du Vieux Pressoir, 21 Porte Saint Martin, tel + 33 01 34 87 40 50. No web ,just around from the castle and the church in city center. The cuisine is Italian,and very good. You can,also, spent a couple of days as hotel. The other is the Jardin d’Hiver inside the castle property also good, but I prefer to eat out of town  in the Auberge.

Hope you have some extra ammunition to enjoy my area of Versailles into the real French countryside. Cheers!!!


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