Victor Hugo’s House

If you should find yourself wandering along Rue de Rivoli past the shoe shops, past the Monoprix minimart and on until you are opposite St Pauls church, you might chance to turn left and encounter a small chateau – the Hotel de Sully. This is quite an impressive Renaissance building built in 1624 for the superintendent of finance M. Gallet. He had a private mansion built with a garden and orangery opening onto Place Royale – later known as Place des Vosges right in the heart of the Marais district in the 4th Arrondissment. It now houses the Centre for national Monuments which is part of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, managing over 100 national monuments. We came upon it during the Heritage weekend, so it was open to the public and we took a peek.

Hotel de Sully

Hotel de Sully

If you walk past the forlorn-looking rose window frame sitting in the garden you will find another building – the service quarters

Hotel de Sully

Hotel de Sully

Which will finally let you out onto the Place des Vosges. It was always an upmarket square and was the model for Bloomsbury Square in London. But here is where it gets interesting.

Before his exile to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the Place des Vosges was home to Victor Hugo from 1832 to 1848 – he rented a second floor apartment in a 17th century building known as the hotel  de Rohan-Guéméneé. These are not hotels as we know them, but rather they are town houses (hence Hotel de Ville means literally ‘Town Hall’).

 

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

Once here you proceed to the  end of the street and there you will find perhaps a short queue in front of Victor Hugo’s house. There is a small entrance charge which was waived for the heritage weekend, and we were shown upstairs to the apartment.

The stairs are lined with prints from articles about him, and about his publications – for it was here that he began Les Miserables among other major works, including Ruy Blas, Les voix interiores, Les Rayons et Les Ombres. 

His taste is extraordinary – from the chinese rooms with fine porcelain and lacquer work furniture to hefty Arts and Crafts furniture set against wallpaper not unlike that designed by William Morris.

Victor Hugo's house

Victor Hugo’s house

Victor Hugo's house

Victor Hugo’s house

 

Victor Hugo's house

Victor Hugo’s house – writing desk

Family portraits adorn the walls and the lush furnishings indicate he was well established by the time he rented this apartment.

Soon enough you are heading back down to the street and through an arch into the hustle and bustle of Paris once again.

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges


 

The Two Towers – of Notre Dame

Cathedrals represent the pinnacle of medieval technology and artistic achievement. They dominate their landscape and are designed to impress and reinforce the Church’s power over the population – at least when they were made. Today they are still very impressive pieces of architecture, and Notre Dame de Paris is one of the best of its genre. It was commenced in 1160 by Bishop Maurice de Sully and finally completed in 1345.

I had previously been put off doing the tower tour by the length of the queue. So there was no real intention to do so on this day, but when travelling it pays to be flexible.

The day dawned overcast and with a light drizzle. Yes it put off the tourists and the queue was fairly short when we got there. We had intended just to scope it out for a later visit, but carpe diem and all that… Sharon went off to explore the interior.

The wait was about 15 minutes and soon I was herded up a few stairs into the tower shop. Tickets are €8.50 – and then came the climb. 387 steps to climb the south tower and I was ready for a rest! At first all I could see was the back of the person in front. Then came the view.

First the chimeras – no they’re not gargoyles as they are not water spouts – these ones are perhaps designed to keep evil spirits at bay, and are known as chimera or grotesques. I’ve seen photos of them, but didn’t realise how close you can get to them, or how big they are – these ones are about human sized as they gaze out over the landscape

Le Stryge

Le Stryge

This is perhaps the most famous and is named ‘Le Stryge’ or ‘the vampire’.

Gargoyle, Notre Dame, Paris

Gargoyle, Notre Dame, Paris

Gargoyle, Notre Dame, Paris

Gargoyle, Notre Dame, Paris

The views over Paris are amazing, because this city is not full of skyscrapers, so the towers of Notre Dame rise majestically above everything else.

Paris skyline, Eiffel Tower

Paris skyline, Eiffel Tower

And from here you can see across to Mont Parnasse above Montmartre to the other great cathedral, the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart)

Paris skyline - Sacre Coeur

Paris skyline – Sacre Coeur

Once back on terra firma it was time to go inside and find Sharon – And here is what strikes you about the design of this cathedral. While it looks like a solid pile of stone, its innovative use of flying buttresses were actually all about window space and light. From the inside, the cathedral is a multimedia multicoloured light show due to the expanses of stained glass throughout the walls. At that point you realise the stone is a just a thin lace to support the roof over the stained glass windows.

Rose Window - Notre Dame

Rose Window – Notre Dame

And it is quite breathtaking – moreover, the pillars and ceiling are richly decorated too! It is a feast for the eyes.

Is it worth the money for the tower tour? Resoundingly yes! There may not be a tour guide, but who needs one with views like these?


Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Beijing may have the Forbidden City, but Seoul has a ready answer in the Gyeongbokgung Palace – literally Greatly blessed by Heaven (Gyeongbok) Palace (gung), it is the largest of the five great royal palaces, and was originally constructed in 1395 – three years after the founding of the Joseon dynasty. But the facts and figures do not convey the scale and grandeur of the palace, with its more than 330 buildings, tranquil lake, and sprawling grounds with the mountains in the background. But perhaps a few photos might help.

The first thing that strikes you is the contrast between the bustling glass-walled towers and huge TV screens of the city and the tranquility of the palace once you step through the gate

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

The next thing is how clean the place is – despite the crowds of tourists there was not a speck of litter on the ground. And although there were quite a few people, the scale of the place soon dwarfs them.

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

So we made our way towards the throne room – brilliantly painted and decorated, but way too dark for most point-and-shoot cameras. And with flash prohibited many despaired of capturing the sight. My secret? I used the fold-out screen and gently rested the camera against the window and set up for a long exposure – something like 3 seconds did the trick

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Soon we encountered a pavillion set in a tranquil lake, with carp taking care of the water quality and keeping the algae and mosquitoes down. Mind you, in Autumn that is simply not an issue.

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Another long exposure gave the water a mirror finish despite the minor ripples from a gentle breeze.

The Palace – being made from wood – suffered from fires, and was twice largely destroyed by the Japanese in 1592 and again in 1915. The current restoration and reconstruction has been ongoing since 1990. Early fire fighting methods included the positioning at regular intervals of huge bronze vessels containing water which could be bucketed by hand to put out any small fires before they spread too far.

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace – bronze water vessel

Are your feet aching yet? Well there is a small tea and souvenirs shop with western-style toilets for your comfort. I strongly recommend the green tea – so refreshing!

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

Parts of the palace are quite labyrinthine and soon we found ourselves in hidden courtyards and strange passages – you could easily imagine a complex life here

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

And so we turned back towards the entrance through long cloisters

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace

and back towards the modern world

Seoul - Gyeongbokgung Palace

Seoul – Gyeongbokgung Palace


Seoul – street markets day and night

The Insadong district of Seoul contrasts wide modern streets with narrow back alleys filled with street traders. Some have clearly been plying their trade for generations, such as this knife sharpener and seller.

Korean knife sharpener

Korean knife sharpener

The variety of goods available was breathtaking. For example there were hat sellers with every style you could think of, including traditional Korean style hats that resembled horse riding helmets, through to berets and dress hats of every description

Hat stall, Seoul

Hat stall, Seoul

The toy maker was a delight – with many automata and whirligigs along with traditional spinning tops and puppets all carved from wood and delightfully painted. Some were whimsical, like the flying pigs, and others had a more steampunk flavour .

Korean toy seller

Korean toy seller, Seoul

And they were there day and night. Of course all this power shopping is enough to make anyone hungry. And this, too, is catered for by the plethora of street food vendors with everything from eggs on toast to traditional korean noodles – you name it and you’ll find it here.

 

Seoul - street food vendors

Seoul – street food vendors

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The markets start in the late morning and go through to around 10.00pm – and these run across several streets and laneways. While there are always the main Western stores, you have to head to the back streets for the interesting stuff, like these garden ornaments

Garden ornament vendor, Seou

Garden ornament vendor, Seoul

There is certainly something for everyone here 🙂