Posts Tagged With: Art

Paris for Art lovers

Well, where do I even start on this topic. Paris has been the stronghold of art and culture and is the ultimate destination for art lovers. It is unfortunate, but the Indian education curriculum has no place for teaching anything about art, or patronizing it. Yes, we learn about a few monuments here and there, and a little bit about the Renaissance period but that is about it. I have learned about whatever little I know from books I have read, particularly Somerset Maugham who has written many a story based on the life of writers, Parisian society, authors, parties and soirees’, and many of his protagonists spent considerable time in Paris. Particularly notable was the Moon and the Six Pence based on the life of Paul Gauguin, the French painter who gave up his ‘corporate slavery’ job (yes even back then) to become a painter who eventually moved to Tahiti. This apart, other research and visiting some museums in the US and Italy, made me appreciate the scale of the artist movements and how important they were in Europe.

Although Paris has so many museums, big and small, I will cover just some of the larger ones here that are well worth a visit. Infact, every church, cathedral and palace – big or small, is a museum in its own right too! I wouldn’t bore you with details on all the museums.

I started by visiting the Orsay museum, the bastion of the Impressionism and some famous modern artists. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Picasso, Gauguin,..you name the artist and he was there if he had created any ‘impression’ back then! The Orsay Museum has a massive collection of Impressionist, classical and paintings of several genres..I won’t bore you with the details, but I spent 4 hours at this museum alone! The Orsay museum is also interesting for the construct of its building. Infact the Orsay museum was originally a train station! You can still see the large clock and the linear structure of the station when you see the museum from the outside as well as from inside.image

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If you like Impressionism, you could also consider visiting the smaller Orangerie museum across Orsay across the river Seine popular for its Claude Monet’s water lilies, certainly well worth a visit. I had seen smaller paintings of Monet’s water lilies, but the huge canvases here, certainly were not to be missed!  In addition to Monet, the museum also covered works of art by Picasso, Henry Matisse, Paul Cezanne, Andre Derain and so many others. You can also buy the combined Orsay-Orangerie museum ticket for a cheaper price from either of the places.

imageThe grandest of them all, was ofcourse the Louvre. The world famous glass pyramids made more famous by the Da Vinci code, amongst the masses, beckoned.  This was among the last destinations I saw while at Paris..I guess I was saving the best for the last..And I wasn’t disappointed. One word to describe the Louvre is Huge. One just cannot see everything in a day here! With an amazing building and architecture, the Louvre takes enough time while on the outside as you take photos! The famous lines aren’t really that long, in off-peak season and there is no need to buy tickets in advance. Infact, there are enough automatic vending machines once you are past the security lines (that one has to go through anyway). The other trick to avoid the lines is to use the lesser known Carousel shopping mall entrance which has barely any line.

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Inside the Louvre

Once inside, you can either head straight to the Mona Lisa like most people do or keep it for as you amble along! However, planning in advance would be good so that you don’t miss any of the paintings you do want to see. It is also worthwhile to pick up an audio guide or a guide-book before you head into the museum for a more knowledgeable experience rather than being lost in the sea of paintings well known and lesser known.

Personally I think I enjoyed the Orsay museum even more than the Louvre as it was just a bit more intimate unlike the intimidating Louvre and its sea of paintings that in the end brought in some fatigue.  Go see the Mona Lisa, but be prepared to wonder what the hype is about when Leonardo da Vinci has seemingly so many better works of art, but well, what do I know!

The other museum I liked was the Chateau of Versailles, the home of the French royalty including the (in)famous Marie Antoinette who liked cake (more than bread J). The palace was splendid and well, to cut a long story short, had an amazing museum gallery. Amazing gardens, pictures and a grandiose building in itself.image

And then there are other museums too worth a visit…the Picasso museum, the Dali museum, the Pompidou center and other smaller galleries..all superb places to explore.

You can also consider taking an art walk through the art district of Montmartre. This is where all the artists lived back in the day. See where Van Gogh lived and the haunts of Picasso. A scenic tour through the hilly Montmartre later you, I will guarantee happiness!

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imageAll in all, if you are a museum fan, Paris is a fantastic destination to be at, although I would say I loved the city of Florence and Rome in that order as well for this reason. If you are a first time museum visitor, do grab some literature before you head into the museum, and that’s the only way to enjoy the priceless artefacts on display!

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Categories: Europe, France | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Grand Mosque photo blog – Part 1 – The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

This blog is the first part of a photo-series in the amazing Grand Mosques that I have seen.  This weeks blog shows the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi.

Known as the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, this mosque is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Pristine and white, it looks almost too beautiful to  be true. With shining white minarets, domes and turrets, the design is sheer magnificence.

It was a hot day when I went to the mosque (though not as hot by UAE standards in December) and the white of the mosque blazed in the morning sun. After going through the courtyard, the verandahs and looping through the pillars, we found ourselves inside to gaze on the huge chandeliers, sink our legs into the deep soft carpet and experience the peace. Without further ado, here are some pictures.

The first look

The first look

Inner Courtyard - Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Inner Courtyard – Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque - Fantabulous Domes, Turrets and Minarets

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque – Fantabulous Domes, Turrets and Minarets

Ornamental Pillars - The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Ornamental Pillars – The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Ornamental walls and windows

Ornamental walls and windows

Prayer Hall..see the Chandelier.. touted to be.one of the most beautiful chandeliers ever

Prayer Hall..see the Chandelier.. touted to be.one of the most beautiful chandeliers ever

Quick tip: Visitors are allowed in the mosque only if they are covered appropriately (read fully covered clothes and a headscarf for women). Entrance for worship and visitors is kept separate so that the worshipers can pray peacefully.

Categories: Abu Dhabi (UAE), Asia | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Rome: The Galleria Borghese

Villa Borghese is one of Rome’s favorite gardens and the famous Galleria Borghese is situated in these picturesque gardens.

A long wak in the Villa Borghese

A long wak in the Villa Borghese

I have to admit that I am not an expert at Art at any level and neither do I claim to understand much of it. But I do appreciate all the Art in its myriad forms. Italy with its bounty of museums and cathedrals was certainly a place I eagerly looked forward to exploring.

Continue reading

Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain

The Spanish Steps

We decided to visit one of Rome’s famous landmarks – The Spanish steps. The subject of several movies that made it popular, these steps are one of Rome’s many symbols. While the tourists went to see the steps themselves, for the Romans it is a popular shopping hangout.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in a Roman Holiday courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Let us start at the top of the Spanish Steps.

At the top -start at Piazza di Trinita dei Monti.  The Church of Trinita dei Monti that dominates this square is a French church in the city built in 1503 and modified over time. Earlier, a slope brought people down to the square below before the steps were built.

And now about the Spanish Steps themselves – You may want to ask why are the Spanish Steps in Rome?  Well, the Piazza di Spagna or the Spanish square at the bottom has the Spanish Embassy which was based there since 1967 and therefore the name. The steps were built by Francisco de Sanctis as a result of a contest held by Pope Innnocent XIII after arguments of over a 100 years on how to build the steps! The staircase has 135 steps and is the widest staircase in Europe. The twelve flights of stairs built entirely in Travertine by Fransesco De Sanctis between 1723 and 1726, widen and narrow in varied stages but in line with rococo architectural concepts.  You may be tempted to eat on the Spanish steps, but please don’t! It is forbidden and you don’t want to pay a hefty fine!

Spanish Steps Top Down

Spanish Steps Top Down

A horse carriage ride anyone?

A horse carriage ride anyone? ..Although the poor horse can’t open his mouth and has an eye patch.

The Piazza di Spagna is the square at the bottom when you descend. This square is more of two triangles like an hourglass and not really a square! If you look up the Church of Trinita dei Monti looms large in the backdrop of the steps as you descend making for a picturesque setting. There are also side ramps or more stairs that run alongside.  At the center of Piazza di Spagna is the Fontana della Barcaccia set against the backdrop of the steps. Unfortunately this fountain was all covered when we were there and we couldn’t see it. Below is a  picture though.

Fontana Barcaccia, The Spanish Steps and finally Church Trinita Dei Monti..all in one pic! Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Fontana della Baraccia I mention above means ‘Ugly Boat’. It was built by Pietro Bernini (father of the more famous architecht Gian Lorenzo Bernini). This boat is a representation of a sinking boat leaking water at the stern and prow.

Let me let you into a secret now. For all the romanticism around the Spanish steps, I only found hype. It was a crowded place, with all the room on the steps taken with photographing tourists. A few horse carriages and the portrait artists at the top were nice. But what was nicer was to escape the hordes into smaller alleys near the steps with little restaurants and gelaterias.  Well, if it hadn’t been for the huge number of steps I have climbed to reach the top of various temples in India, I might have found the Spanish steps a big deal. They make for many a postcard of Italy and should be best enjoyed at wee morning hours or late night before the hordes of tourists descend on them making them pretty invisible in the throng.

The crowded Spanish Steps

The crowded Spanish Steps

We went to the next famous place nearby- the Trevi fountain, with more anticipation after the initial disappointment at the Spanish steps.  The fountain was no doubt the grandest I have ever seen in a fountain, but..Alas! It was being repaired and was reduced to a shadow of its real self and amidst all that scaffolding, I could barely gauge the magnificence that it was. It is supposed to remain closed till October 2015. But here are a few pictures I have sourced for you to see it in all its true glory –

The Glorious Trevi Fountain courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain in its caged glory

Next: How we took the wrong turn but got good surprises.

Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Richa Roams in Rome!

I’ve got to admit first that I have been really wanting to use the title I did! And now for a series on the Roman Holiday…

It was a fine September day when we landed at Italy from our flight from Mumbai to Rome via Cairo on a Egypt Air flight. Although we craned our necks looking out over Cairo to spot the pyramids, Alas! we saw nothing but the desert and dust! Thankfully SSS wasn’t too uncomfortable during the flight and barely troubled us!

There is a 3.5 hour lag in Italian and Indian time. By the time we reached the apartment we had booked, it was night in India and SSS was asleep. Our kind host at the apartment where we were staying had arranged for food and milk for her and even a baby cot for her. Tired out, as we were, we were fast asleep before we knew it as we looked forward to the next day.

So much to do!

I have never been a fan of ‘places to see’. What I do live by though is ‘places to experience’. However, looking back, I realize Rome is one of those places where you want to see everything and experience it all as well! And it can get mighty difficult to balance it out unless you stay there for over a month! Be it long walks in a quiet neighborhood each different from the other, explore authentic Italian food places in Rome, do a wine tour, travel in the trains and buses and live like locals, enjoy the melodies from the quaint churches, watch the pigeons flutter at the fountain…All the ‘experience’ is challenged by the need to run from one Roman pillar to another Roman post..from the Vatican city to the Colosseum to one museum after another..and yet, there is still so much to do and see that it gets overwhelming. So in this blog, I am going to tell you how best you can experience the city and see some of it as well!

It was a chilly morning as we started out after a home-made breakfast. We were off to see the Spanish steps, the Gallery Borghese and the Trevi fountain in our itinerary.

Walking around and first impressions

We decided to walk to our destination. As it turned out, it was quite a long walk, but one that we really enjoyed. The vibe of a place can be best felt through a leisurely walk through it.  We ambled along smelling the coffee and fresh bread smells that wafted through cafes, passed joggers who had finished their morning jog, and ofcourse hordes of tourists referring to maps like us and looking around in wonder. We noted some of the crumbling architecture of Rome, how the new and the old buildings co-mingled- none , the better than the other. Outside seating of restaurants were being set up and looked inviting.  We passed a couple of churches on the way, passing those little fountains on the way. It was hard not to stop and look at every insignificant place that looked interesting and to cut a long walk short, we walked for over 2 hours for what should have been a 45 minute walk!

Fish Fountain

Fish Fountain

Colorful buildings.. old and new

Colorful buildings.. old and new

Roman Alley

Roman Alley

Chasing pigeons

Chasing pigeons

Buildings Buildings

Enroute..

Enroute..

Tip – Airport transfer: For the airport transfer we just took a taxi although there are cheaper options of using a bus or the train. It cost us €48 which was about €20 more than we would have paid for other modes of transport. But well worth it considering we were tired out and weren’t in a mood to lug the luggage looking for the apartment!  The Leonardo Express train leaves every 30 minutes to the central Termini station and costs €14. The Terravision bus is another comfortable option and costs only €4 but leaves less frequently after every 60 minutes.

Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Sightseeing in Italy: To reserve or not to reserve

Italy has several historical monuments and a humongous quantity of art to boast about. It sees millions of visitors in many of its cities every year, and as a result, to get inside to see any famous piece of art or architecture can be stressful with long lines that get worse in the sweltering heat of summers. There are however a few planning tips to help you skip those snaking lines and saving precious time and energy to enjoy!

The second line at the Vatican Museums

The second line at the Vatican Museums

The most common way of skipping a few lines is using a sight-seeing passes. Rome has a sightseeing pass called as Roma pass that will let holders skip the line, see two destinations without paying separately and provide discounted tickets at other places at a cost of €36. It will also provide transport without having to purchase tickets…All this for a validity of three days.  Again, you need to evaluate how slowly or how fast you want to see places, compare the cost of the pass with the individual ticket prices for places you will see in three days and if you will be using public transport often. If you don’t think the pass is worth it, you can separately make reservations for popular destinations as well.  Similarly Florence has a Firenze Pass. Venice and Milan have their city passes as well.

Here is my take on the places you need to reserve at Rome and Florence and what we did –

  1. Rome – Colosseum – The Colosseum is Rome and Italy’s most famous sight and ticket lines can be long. Although you need not reserve in advance for the off-peak season, you may want to book ahead to skip the line in peak season.  Well, that is the advice which most people will give you, but in September, we actually went on the first Sunday of the month without reservation and got in pretty quickly…for FREE! That was because we got reached at about 8 a.m. when it just about opens. But lines can be long all day.  You can either reserve tickets to just see the Colosseum, or go through one of the several guided tours offered.
  2. Rome – Vatican Museums –The Vatican museums which are supposed to be one of the world’s largest museums include the famous Sistine Chapel and is the other most popular place flocked by tourists. If you go in the morning, there are long lines to get. But afternoon can see no line at all! We had pre-booked the Vatican tickets and were able to skip the line for the Vatican museums, although I think we could have done without the pre-booking.
  3. Rome – Gallery Borghese is particularly famous for the marble sculptures of Bernini and is a popular museum in Rome. It is a must to pre-book and they don’t let you in without a pre-booking. You can call up and make a reservation for a given date and time and you need to be present to pick up the tickets at the appointed time.
  4. Florence – Uffizi galleries – The Uffizi gallery is one of Italy’s most visited museums and holds important works of Renaissance by the masters including Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Caravaggio and Raphael. It is a must to make reservations to visit the Uffizi since they only let in a specific number of people at a time and the lines are really long! You can either book online or call on phone (39-055-294-883) during regular working hours there on weekdays. It is important to note that there are several sites where you can book tickets online, but many have a large premium on the tickets. Go through the official site only to book cheaper tickets.
  5. Florence – Accademia gallery is where Michaelangelo’s famous statue of David is housed. Again, go through only the official site to book the tickets at the correct rates.

Some more references in here – Roma Pass, Rome and Vatican Pass, Vatican Museums  and more on reservations

Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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