A Paris Valentine

Well, this is unexpected. After years of (mostly) turning a blind eye to Valentine’s Day, we’re changing it up a bit. Not only do we have plans for tonight—a cocktail workshop at Amsterdam’s historic House of Bols—but in a serendipitous twist, we’ll also be celebrating Valentine’s weekend in the most romantic city on earth.

Oui, Paris!

Paris is always a good idea

A work trip to Paris fell into Marlon’s lap came along at just the right time. After agonizing over budgets and schedules and other boring, adult, parent-like things, Marlon threw caution to the wind and offered me the weekend in Paris as a Valentine present. How could I turn down such a present? Besides, as Audrey Hepburn famously said, “Paris is always a good idea!”

I’ll be back next week to report on Valentine cocktails and Parisian pleasures. In the meantime, happy Valentine’s Day and have a love-ly weekend!

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Devil in the details

Before I leave Versailles behind, I thought I’d quickly share (in a very PKF-style post) a few details that I really liked.

Though these obviously aren’t the original wall coverings, the pattern freak in me loved them all the same. But while I loved the look of these, I wouldn’t necessarily want them in my house!

Paintings with black backgrounds, like this one, remind me of the works of the Dutch masters in the Rijksmuseum.

I kept reverting to details whenever I would get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of excess. Or simply when I didn’t want to see any more crowds.

Gold and marble everywhere!

For the child-woman in you: sweet prints in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom.

The look of libog from a horned satyr in the gardens.

After the rain, blue skies. And puddles, of course.

One last look…

And it’s bye bye, Versailles. Till we meet again.

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Garden state

Last month’s visit to Versailles was actually the second time I’ve been there. The first time was exactly 10 years ago (eeep!) with the Glee Club. We had some bonus miles from our bus company, so the group decided to use it on a day trip to Versailles.

However, it was a Monday and the palace was closed. We only got to see the gardens, which were free. We would have been extremely bummed if not for the fact that the Versailles gardens are, like, jumongous. Never underestimate the fun-generating ability of a bunch of Pinoys with cameras.

The gardens of Versailles then… and now.

How’s this for another before and after shot?

Nobody is allowed to comment on how I looked like I was stretched in post. I’m not exactly happy about this decade-long, er, expansion project. You are however allowed to comment that 10 years later, I am at least dressed better than my neneng self. By the way, this outfit is part of the two-part guest post I did for Plus Size Fasyon Mudra.

In the summer, Versailles charges a €7 admission fee for its gardens. In exchange for this little sum, you get the perfect soundtrack for a French frolic. Music from several appropriate historic periods is piped in amidst the tall green hedges, serene fountains and assorted Greek bronze figures.

Not all of us were happy about having to pay for something that was free on our last visit. On the bright side, the music was well-chosen, discreet and did a lot to enhance the ambience and stimulate the imagination.

Not only did I keep expecting to happen upon Marie Antoinette amidst a flock of poodles, the music  made me feel like I should be laughing a coquettish, lady-in-waiting kind of laugh and playing hide-and-seek in a powdered wig and taffeta ballgown. Makes me wish I hadn’t left the talcum powder and the whalebone corset in my other handbag.

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Versigh

The last-minute decision to go to Paris was mainly to do three things: shop at Uniqlo (how I’ve missed you!), spend more time with my friends, and finally step inside the gates of the Chateau Versailles.
All it took was a train ride on the RER Line C to a Versailles-Rive Gauche, a suburb of Paris, and a few steps to cross this imposing portal (which I kind of liked, by the way, these modern brackets framing the past) into an age gone by.

Versailles is everything you would expect a seat of power, the locus of an empire to be. It’s all about grandiose scale, opulent ornamentation, and sumptuous excess. From the private chapel that rose up through two floors…

… to the seemingly boundless gardens beckoning from every floor-to-ceiling window.

“More is more” is the philosophy at work, and maximalism is king. Even their fireplaces were awesome in scale. I could roast entire Dutchmen in there, and the Dutch are the biggest buggers on this living earth.

It was crowded beyond belief the day we visited, definitely the biggest tourist crowd I’ve experienced alongside Keukenhof in spring and the Forbidden City in Beijing on school holidays. You’d think a building of such sprawling proportions wouldn’t feel crowded, but never underestimate peak season in Paris.

You were either practically carried along by a slow-moving mass of bodies or permanently rooted behind a tour group with cameras furiously clicking. But moving at a shuffle seems to work for Versailles, because there is always, always an excess of details to look at.

Maybe even more details than there are tourists, and that, in peak season, is saying something!

After a while you realize that the only way you can really frame out the masses is to focus on the ceilings.

And what ceilings they are.

After a while, you’ll find yourself just shaking your head, and it’s not because you strained your neck gawking at the ceilings.

Kaya pala pinagpupupugot ng mga  mga ulo ng mga hitad na ito! The only thing more awful to imagine than all this wealth belligerently ignoring the squalor of its time, is how many besotted visitors leave Versailles wanting their home to look just like this. Versailles was not built in a land area of 100, 300 or even 500 square meters for a reason, people! Just thinking of all the mini-Versailles in the world is giving me the heebie-jeebies right now.

I would love to return in the off season just to spend some quality alone time in Versailles’ famous Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Nothing can appeal to your inner Marie Antoinette like a hall of mirrors can.

Speaking of Marie Antoinette, her bedroom was the one place my wide-angle lens threw in the towel. It was great to have a wide-angle lens in a place like Versailles where scale speaks volumes. But I just couldn’t seem to get an overall impression of her bedroom as I did some of the other rooms. This place would make a great spot for one hell of a girly slumber party.

Eventually I decided to stop fighting the crowds and let them become part of the photographs.

It was when I was watching the crowds flow, like spectres, through the richly decorated rooms, down the cold marble staircases, that Versailles and I finally had our moment. How many centuries have worn down these steps? How many people have walked these same halls, and do their spirits still linger for the love of all this beauty or simply because at some long-ago junction in time, this was home?

Rulers may come and go. Power may ebb and change hands. Revolutions may rage and settle. Through it all, these marble halls endure. Such is the power of Versailles.

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Ancient stone, flowing water

With temperatures soaring to 32℃ and our friends flying off to Rome, Marlon and I knew exactly what we wanted to do the day after Mimi and Pete’s wedding: take it slow and go swimming. We had the option of driving an hour from Caissargues to the nearest beach, or to drive 20 minutes to see the Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 
All it took was for me to see “swimming” among the list of activities allowed at this ancient Roman aqueduct, to decide. Pont du Gard it was!

Aside from being an incredibly picturesque sight, Pont du Gard is an architectural marvel. (Wondering what an aqueduct is? Read here). Built between 40 and 60 AD, this aqueduct was as a pathway down which 40 million liters of water a day flowed from a water source in Uzes to the Roman town of Nimes, 50 kilometers away. 
Thanks to the simple physics of gravity, homes, public baths and fountains in Nimes were assured a steady, efficient supply of water—something which the Romans enjoyed in 60 AD, but citizens of Paranaque did not until the 21st century. 

Today, the Pont du Gard is a major tourist attraction as well as a public recreation area used for kayaking and (most importantly for Marlon and myself) swimming.

There is a small sandy area by the riverbank, as well as a few roofed sunbeds where we saw families  picnicking.

This was when I started feeling that I was really on vacation. Things began to slow down and take on a dreamy haze. To have this time to just lay in the sun, watch the sunshine turn the ripples of the river into so much gold and soak up the atmosphere felt like the ultimate luxury. Time is indeed gold.

Venturing into the river was like getting foot reflexology, which my mom was nuts about for a time (remember those painful, fugly slippers that were big in the 90s?) and which I absolutely abhor. In one word: pebbles. It got to a point where I felt like I couldn’t move another step, and regretted leaving my faithful tsinelas at home. 
But once we got in deep enough to float… yahoo!

Yes, the water was cold. And no, river swimming has never really appealed to me. But how many times in my life can I swim in the shadow of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and let my body drift lazily under 20,000 years of history?

Not many, I would think. And that’s what made this Sunday afternoon swim so unforgettable.

Once the sun started to set and the families around us began packing up, Marlon and I were left by ourselves, not wanting this day to end, waiting for the last rays of the sun to dry us off. It was suddenly so easy to picture a battalion of Roman soldiers clad in armor, stopping to let their horses drink from this cool river on a hot summer’s day. I swear, I got goosebumps. And I know it wasn’t the water.

Check out more lovely photos of Pont du Gard at Apol’s blog!

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