Friday, 31 December 2010

Welcoming 2011 by the Eiffel Tower

For the second time in a row, we were returning to the Eiffel Tower to welcome the new year, with much anticipation of seeing a grand show. After all, last year's light show was quite impressive.

This time we were going to get balcony seats, so to speak, as we were going to my friend's apartment, just a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower. How lucky we were, we thought, that we would not have to stand and wait for several hours, in the cold open-air.

We were on our way by 9:00 p.m. While crossing the Pont d'Alma (bridge), we saw people starting to secure their places for a good view.

We passed some street vendors selling food, drinks and spirits, and much-needed accessories for the cold weather. It was 0°C "Feels like -3°C."

The repository for the soon-to-be empty wine and champagne bottles was temporarily set in placed.

We settled down comfortably into my friend's apartment and set our food on the table. We spent the waiting hours catching up and eating foie gras with wheat crackers, hummus with corn chips, clementines, and drinking vin chaud (warmed wine with fruits and spices).

There were a few hundred people on the tower grounds, but thousands were waiting on the quai Branly, right in front of the tower, and across the bridge on quai New York, by the Trocadero.

Looking out, this was the view of the Eiffel Tower from the second floor.

Every hour at night, for ten minutes after the hour, the twinkling lights go on. This we were able to see at 10:00, then at 11:00.

About 10 minutes before midnight, fireworks started to go off right behind the tower, which were organized by a group of private individuals. At first, we thought it was all part of the big production for the evening.

By 12:00 o'clock, midnight, the crowd broke into a thunderous applause as the twinkling lights came on once again.

It went on for the usual 10 minutes.

Then, some other fireworks went on somewhere else. We were waiting for more. But there was NO more! The Eiffel Tower just went back into its regular night lights.

The crowd was so very disappointed. Waiting all night for a show of sorts to welcome the new year and all we had was the usual twinkling lights that is seen nightly. What a dud! We might, as well, have slept through the night! It was so anti-climactic that when we wished each other "happy new year" it was about 15 minutes after the clock struck 12:00.

The crowd began to disperse. There were rowdy young ones, who had one too many a drink. We had to be careful to keep off their path. We also looked on where we were walking because of broken glass littered all over the street. I wondered if this broken glass from smashed bottles was a show of resentment over the disappointing program at the Eiffel Tower. Maybe, as there was a riot squad that we passed by and patrol cars all over the place.

We managed to get back to cross the bridge. There was horn tooting, some loud music playing, or screaming from people in their cars, stuck in traffic. Luckily, we were walking. And soon, we were home sweet home.

As Barry Manilow sings, "It's just another new year's eve." And it was!

If you want to make your own VIN CHAUD, here is how my friend made it:
Half a bottle of white wine ( or you may use cheap red wine)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, cut in half and slice
1 apple, cut in half and slice
1 lemon, cut in half and slice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1/3 cup cognac
BRING all the ingredients, EXCEPT the cognac, into a simmer. Add the cognac when the wine mixture is warmed, right before serving. Serve in mugs, adding some pieces of fruits.

Happy 2011!!!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Day Trip to Florence

Florence (Firenze) is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. It is the capital city of the Tuscan province. It has less than half a million inhabitants but boast of attracting a big number of tourists, each year. I learned much from our visit here several years ago, when my daughter was taking up an architectural course as part of her study-abroad program. Coming for a day trip brings back bits and pieces of what I discovered, then, about this place.

Florence played a prominent role in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, particularly with the growth of art and architecture. It was a center of medieval European trade and finance and was one of the wealthiest cities of the time. It is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and came to be known as the "Jewel of the Renaissance". A part of their turbulent political history was under the Medici family, during the middle ages, a period also characterized by religious and republican revolutions.

When coming to this city, one is exposed to music, architecture, education, cuisine, fashion, philosophy, science and religion that flourished during the Renaissance period. The city center has numerous places of interest to visit - elegant squares (piazzas), Renaissance palaces (palazzi), academies, parks, gardens, churches, monasteries, museums, art galleries, ateliers, and I would add stores to satisfy one's shopping desires. A wide range of art collections are exhibited in the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi.

The "Who's Who of Florence" names some notable historical figures, such as Dante, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Niccolò Machiavelli, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo Galilei, Catherine de' Medici, Luigi Cherubini, Antonio Meucci, Guccio Gucci, Franco Zeffirelli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli, and Emilio Pucci. They were either born there or they chose to make Florence their home. Florence is the last preserved Renaissance city in the world and is regarded today as the art capital of Italy.

So, we were back in Florence, just for a day. As soon as we got to the train station, we headed to the restaurant specially chosen for another birthday celebration...

at "Il Cibreo" in the Santa Croce quarter, for some authentic local cuisine presented in a more artsy manner, from start to finish, in an old-fashioned, charming setting.

When it was time to sing "happy birthday," this piccolo flour less-chocolate cake, one inch long, was brought to the table! And I enjoyed all of it!

After lunch, we just had a few hours left to catch the train back to Rome. Off on a walking tour...

we passed by the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), the principal Franciscan church in Florence, where some of the most illustrious Italians, like Michelangelo, are buried. There was a Christmas market set up in the piazza, right in front of the church.

The best-known site and crowning architectural jewel of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo.

The magnificent dome was built by Filippo Brunelleschi. The nearby Campanile, which was partly designed by Giotto and the Baptistery are also points of interest for the visitor.

Italian confectionary from Scudieri, at the Piazza Duomo, located very near the Baptistry.

La Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of St Lawrence) contains the Medici Chapel, the mausoleum of the Medici family – the most powerful family in Florence from the 15th to the 18th century. Nearby is the Uffizi Gallery, with one of the finest art collection in the world.

The San Lorenzo street market is the market of all markets to go to in Florence. Prices are much more reasonable. You can find a vast variety of goods, such as...

an assortment of leather goods of fashion accessories and garments

The stationary paper designs are one of the specialties in Florence.

Locally loomed tapestry patterns for use as wall hangings, for throw pillows, handbags, table linens, etc.

We spent the most time here, choosing murano-glass jewelry for our family and friends.

This stall had all things Italian for your cooking needs.

By early evening, this cherub was projected on the church's wall. That was a very nice, angelic touch.

As the street Christmas lights went on, it was time for us to head back to the train station.

By the time we passed by the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, we were just a couple of minutes away from the station, rushing. Yes, we made it to the train on time. But, our 1 1/2 hour train ride took four hours due to rail-track congestion to Rome!

If you plan to visit Florence, do stay longer than a day. The city has so much to offer. You would truly enjoy it.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Sunday Mass at the Notre Dame de Paris, at Christmastide

For the Sunday after Christmas, we decided to hear mass at the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. This was the mass celebrating the "Feast Day of the Holy Family." We chose to attend the Gregorian Chant mass. The chanting was beautiful, meditative for the mass goers, even if the language was in Latin. It was melodic harmony that gave me the feeling like we were ascending to heaven.

The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris (Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris) is on the Île de la Cité, a small island in the Seine River.

It is early gothic in design and it was an ambitious project that was carried out from 1163–1250, under Maurice de Sully, the bishop of Paris.

The Gregorian mass came to an end with a final organ piece, a rendition of something that sounded like "Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor." Behind the pipe organ is the WEST rose window.

This being the season of Christmastide, the adoration of the Infant Jesus follows after the masses.

The much visited and revered Our Lady of Paris

After the mass, I shared with my family bits and pieces of what I had learned from a guided tour of the cathedral.

This detailed, intricately carved wood panels, ornate both sides of the the inner section behind the main, after-Vatican II altar, once used by the monarchy and their invited guests who were people of distinction, for their private masses.

This altar, with a Pieta theme, was the one used for several hundred years.

SOUTH rose window (c.1260); general themes are that of the New Testament, the Triumph of Christ, and the symbolic number four

NORTH rose window (1250); main theme is the Old Testament, but the central medallion depicts the Virgin and Child.

Do you notice anything between these two rose windows? These windows have undergone repairs in the last centuries: in the period between 1725 and 1727, by Guillaume Brice; in 1861 by Viollet-le-Duc and Alfred Gérente. Viollet-le-Duc rotated the entire south rose 15° to create horizontal and vertical axes for better stability in the masonry.

The life of Jesus is depicted in scenes in this diorama-like panels, going around the exterior wall of the inner altar section. The scenes are representative of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary prayer.

This was the Great Chandelier, or the Crown of Lights, that originally hang at the transept crossing.

This is one of the few original stain-glass windows left intact, depicting biblical themes and stories.

You will notice that the stain glass designs of mini rose windows on the upper walls are no longer original, and have been replaced with less ornate and more modern style designs.

This is one of several oil paintings that was given to the church, a thanksgiving offering for having a successful, lucrative means of livelihood, commissioned by a specific organization of tradesmen.

And soon, the Christmastide season, one of the seasons of the liturgical year of most Christian churches will come to an end. By definition, this is the period from Christmas eve to the evening of January 5th, the day before Epiphany. This period is also commonly known as the "Twelve Days of Christmas," which must have been the inspiration for the Christmas carol.

The cathedral will always be there for you to visit at any time of the year. We, next, look forward to the season of lent, culminating in the Easter celebration, when the veneration of the Holy Crown of Thorns and several nails used at the crucifixion are displayed every Friday at 3:00 p.m., or every first Friday of the month.

I pray that your families will be guided and protected by the Holy Family.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas Day at the Trocadero Christmas Market, Paris

The bitter-cold temperatures, -2°C forecasted as "Feels like -8°C," did not deter people from going out this Christmas day, here in Paris. At the Trocadero marchés de noel, couples, families, and many people of all ages came to spend part of their day, here, just as we did.

Smaller in size in comparison to the markets on the avenue des Champs Elysees and at La Defense, we found this market to be charming in more ways than one.

First, there are all these delectable food stalls!
Oh, the aroma of roasted chestnuts filled the air at the entrane to the market.

Hot chocolate, hot wine, baked goodies, and these glazed fruits aroused our appetites for something warm and something sweet.

Irresistible French macarons like salted caramel, orange/chocolate...just to sample a few.

Tempting gaufres (waffles) with whipped creme and a choice of caramel or chocolate syrup

Cupcapes galore!

Nougat, sweet and assortment of different sizes and flavors

On this very cold night, onion soup sounded like a great idea, plus flammekueche!

The Christmas market is also suited for family time.

An Ice skating rink for the kids and adults

A mini version of cross-country skiing on a snow-covered hill, for a ride down the snowy banks

Oops...even adults take a tumble!

As for shopping...

Piggy banks are back! encouragement to save money in this kind of economy.

A selection of cured hams, foie gras, pâté and cheese of many types

Artisanal products: confiture (fruit jams, marmalades) and syrups

Semi-precious stones could be the answer to personalizing gift choices for dear friends.

We have just about walked through the whole market, gingerly walking over some icy patches.

As we headed home, walking, we were careful not to fall, just taking baby steps on slippery sidewalks and keeping away from black ice. We made it home safely. It's been a nice Christmas day celebration!

We are looking forward to another celebration, this time it's to welcome the new year!


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