Thursday, 15 December 2011

Taxi in Zurich? - some warnings

After previously praising Zurich's treatment of traffic and cyclists, it is with unfortunate irony that on this same day I received some rather rude treatment on my bike in Zurich, and got beeped at twice by Taxi drivers.

From what I have personally experienced and been advised taxi drivers here are:

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Cycling in Zurich

While cycling in most other large cities is usually a mixture of teeth gritting and bell ringing frustration, Zurich seems to be a much more calm counterpoint to the usual fist shaking and shouting.

Politeness seems to be the key factor involved in getting around the City, whether that is by public transport, car, bicycle or foot.
I am consistently surprised at how polite car drivers are in Zurich, for example; very few pedestrian crossings actually have pedestrian lights. So how does it work then? Well the method is surprisingly simple, the pedestrian had automatic priority and all cars stop at zebra crossings at the slightest hint that someone might intend crossing. The result is that people crossing the road only hesitate a quick glance at oncoming traffic before marching straight out  in front of politely waiting cars.

While you would think this system would be the bane of most car drivers in Zurich it is not, the result is surprisingly stress free flowing traffic, probably because the cars don't spend their time waiting in front of red lights at pedestrian crossings where no one is crossing.

Indeed even the cars don't need lights at Zurich's most busy junction - central and use this polite waiting system to alternate between who has priority. Only at peak traffic times will you see a semi-formal traffic stopping system in place and this literally takes the form of a human Traffic Warden being stationed in what looks like an over-sized bin right in the centre of the junction.

This traffic version of an orange Oscar the Grouch is an efficient version of traffic lights as they are more accurately able to judge the needs of the waiting traffic, and appropriately assign priority.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Schmutzli - the Swiss Bad Santa

Every country has its traditions and rituals and one of the more quirky and oddly satisfying of the Swiss Christmas season is Schmutzli.

2 Schmutzli are seen here on either side of SamiChlaus

Just like Venom to Spiderman, Dr. Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes and Magneto to Dr. Xavier, Schmutzli is a more sinister counter point to the good that Santa represents.

The answer to how this tradition came about is once again representative of another classic battle between Christianity and paganism. Originally it was a pagan ritual called Perchten which involved good spirits driving out the bad old spirits. With Samichlaus taking the Christian "good" role Schmutzli some how managed to evolve into the dark figure.

Samichlaus is not Santa Claus however and the celebration of "St Nicolas Day"is on the 6th of December, while both Christmas and St Nicolas Day both have the same origins they take on different forms, with the latter having much more in common with its original tradition of paganism than its commercialised American brother.

What is personally appealing about this tradition is the fact that it actually give children something to fear at Christmas. No longer is the classic taunt "Santas' watching" applicable, the phrase "Schmutzli is watching" has far more fear behind it, and only rightly so, the black faced nemesis is associated with stealing children, carries a broom of sticks with which to hit misbehaving children and is even called  Père Fouettard or Father 'Whip' in the French speaking part of Switzerland.
Local teenagers have even been known to dress up as groups of Schmutzli's and go around implementing their own style of vigilante Christmas justice on younger children.

All Christmas songs now have a new tune

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Schmutzli is coming to town

He’s got a stick, And he'll whip you twice;
It doesn't matter if you're naughty or nice
Schmutzli is coming to town

He'll steal when you’re sleeping, He'll whip you when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good, So run for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out! You better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Schmutzli is coming to town

Sounds like excellent incentive for good behaviour from children to me and hey its a lot less scary than the German equivalent "Krampus" who looks like the very incarnation of Satan himself.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Skyride Dublin 2011 - beware children on bicycles

Skyride Dublin at Grand Canal Square

Overall the event was enjoyable but I found myself more stressed than I would be in normal traffic. The main reason being that the streets were littered with children on bicycles, contrary to cars small children are notoriously spatially unaware, unpredictable in their movements on the road and follow a cycling pattern that could be likened to a shoal of herring being attacked by dolphins. Lucky I wasn't going anywhere fast or I'm sure I would have had the great joy of discussing bicycle safety with the parents of many crying children.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Cycling in Ireland - pack wet gear

Wet Gear. This is probably the most important set of words that you will use in reference to cycling in Ireland.
Following one random day of sunshine on my arrival there has followed the usual predictable set of squalls, showers, and looming grey clouds.
Like going to a club you know will be bad or boring, you can compensate the sheer awfulness with copious amounts of alcohol, and so it is with rain and wet gear. Especially for longer journeys, e.g.. more than 5 minutes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Sky Ride Dublin vs Critical Mass Dublin

With Sky's tag line "where will your bike take you" the answer is pretty simple; probably along the route you have designated and cordoned off from traffic.

This is the first time that the "Sky" Ride has made it over to the Republic. Now in all due respect the concept of cycling uninhibited through the worlds major cities is not a new one but contrary to the critical mass phenomenon the idea is less "lets piss off all the people trying to just get around in cars, by having a completely unplanned event where we have no leaders, no route and will just stop traffic through sheer numbers" and more "lets sponsor the event and co-operate with the police and traffic department so that we can have the traffic diverted, streets shut down and proper safety features".

So to summarise less anarchy and more family.

Friday, 2 September 2011

My Giant Black Bike

So after a long absence from the home of Guinness, rain and left hand driving I have once again set foot on the emerald isle that is Ireland. I’m sure that anybody who has been away from home for a significant amount of time will appreciate the comforts of arriving into a country where you can perfectly speak the language, know which bus to take, have somewhere to stay and have a large group of people who are delighted to see you.

Friday, 26 August 2011

My Swiss bike

Okay so following my current up routel to a non EU country, I have once again found myself slogging along paths like a common pedestrian, now while this might be acceptable for some temporary getting around, me feeling at home necessitates certain amenities that might be defined as a bicycle.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Swimming in the Limmat

Okay so while this article doesn't have anything to do with bicycles or Paris, its an article I recently submitted for a website called, the article has been published and kind of summarises the extent of my knowledge of Zurich so far. Still though it's quite cool to have an article published on another (hopefully more frequented) website than my own, even if its unpaid.
Here is the article:

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

One months holidays and counting

So following what has can technically be described as over a months absence from my previous job, I am happy to announce that it does not end here. So far I have spent 2 weeks in Cadiz in the south of eeeSpain with 400 architects, one week in Munich in Bavaria in Germany with over 5000 jugglers, and now its been just over one week in Zurich with 1 boyfriend.
What's in store next? Easy answer Ireland.

Keeping in mind that this will be covered in future posts lets go through some of the highlights of my previous month.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Cycling in Liechtenstein

So following what can only be described as an epic set of holidays to Cadiz in Spain and then Munich, I had the fortune to be taken to yet another offbeat location that shortly after my arrival into Zurich. After less than 24hours in Zurich I was whisked away to Liechtenstein. 
its not often a country map can indicate the location of individual houses

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Cadiz - Getting away from it all

After spending the last few months exclusively in Paris I must admit that this particular trip to eeeeSpain has been somewhat of a count down in my life.
If I return to paris this will mark  roughly one year spent in the city that I love, but wait what do I love? the people? the place? the culture? yes. But to what ends? What have I achieved in this year? I've had fun, made many great new friends and left an ever widening gap on my CV  while procrastinating about starting a career.

How ever even Parisians will admitt their love for getting away from it all. For how long though? Well this blogger might be about to decamp to Switzerland. Whether this is a permanent decision depends on the job front.

However in the mean time I have certainly been enjoying my trip to Spain, after getting one of the worst sunburns of my life on the first day I have not returned to the beach since and have been sheltering in the shade and undertaking my workshop.
For those if you who do not know this is not strictly a holiday but a working holiday. Working in the sense that I only pay 300€ for two weeks of accommodation and breakfast lunch and dinner. But I am part of a team of 3 people who tutor a workshop called "Umbrella" this workshop releases a daily newspaper on the events of EASA Spain (european architectural students assembly). So as well as partying and sunbathing I am responsibe for a group of 8 people and have to deal with things like submission deadlines, layouts and faulty photocopiers.

For those of you interested in reading any of the results of this "holiday" all the newspaper issues are uploaded daily onto the website.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Cycling – not quite a bus, pedestrian, motorbike or car. Not going to let that stop me.

Every ones approach to cycling is different, some people are rigid rule followers, waiting patiently at the lights while wearing a florescent yellow vest and some are speed demons with a reckless opinion of life weaving in an out of oncoming traffic on a one way street. I usually try to find a happy medium.
My least favourite though are probably the ones who just don't know any better, this is usually the panicky tourist velib’ user who is wandering around like a priest in a lingerie department (feeling very uncomfortable and not sure what to do but still enjoying the view).

Sometimes the best approach to cycling through a city is just to go at it tooth and nails, and the best thing about being on bicycle is you get to cheat at a lot of the rules cars and pedestrians have to follow. 
Now I'm not saying that cyclists don’t have to follow the law- we do, but I’m just saying that it doesn't always happen that way.......

While cycling everyone bends or breaks the rules, following some research I found this website particularly helpful in realistically identifying common types of accidents, some named:
  • The Door Prize
  • The Right Cross
  • The Cross walk slam
and my favourite
  • The Red Light of Death!
and giving you practical advice on how to avoid them. With diagram's!

Don't be scared is one of the most important things to remember. You are also a road user and have the same rights as the cars, by this justification though you should also follow the same rules as the cars and this especially means stopping at traffic lights, signalling when turning and getting into the correct lanes. Cars can't avoid you if they don't know what your doing.

So here are some simple tips on how to stay safe for the realistic cyclist:

  • Don't be scared
  • Stop at lights
  • Signal with your hands
  • Get in lane
  • Don’t listen to music
  • Have and use your bell
  • Be visible at night
  • Try not to mount the footpath
  • Dismount your bicycle when on a busy footpath
  • Be patient
  • Feel free to take up the entire lane- lane control position
  • Pull right in front of cars at traffic lights- avoid their blind spots
  • Assert your rights as a road user, but
  • Don't be arrogant of your rights, bend the rules within the reason of safety and never expect a car to slow down for you.

Being patient is also a very important part of getting around Paris, and by this I don't mean just waiting at the lights, one thing to remember is that everyone is a road user including pedestrians, and Paris is a city with a population of over 2 million people and that's not even counting the tourists and suburban dwellers(9 million-ish). 
So showing these people the same respect that you hope they would show you if you were the one crossing the road is essential, and if you do decide to mount the footpath, try and looks sheepish and apologise to any pedestrians you might nearly bump into – remember you are in the wrong.

Maybe cars might find you a little annoying when you're first discovering the best way to cycle to work, but even if they do beep at you, apart from the shock factor a beep never injured anyone, and at least that means they see you.
By that same justification a signal such as giving the beeping car in question a certain hand gesture might be an appropriate way of indicating your acknowledgement of their dissatisfaction with you bicycle skills.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Critical Mass Paris - a cycling phenomenon

So after having witnessed an incredibly large gathering of roller bladers in Paris I asked myself could it be possible that cyclists do the same thing? 

After some research, which lets be honest is a little more difficult when your trying to transcend the language barrier, I found out the following.

There is an international movement called “critical mass” this movement is basically a big get together of 100 to 60,000 cyclists going for a group cycle. These events are generally loose in their organisation and lack the kind of leadership that would make it an official organisation or protest. The benefit of the event is a car free cycle through your respective city with many of your fellow cyclists, while making a clear statement about the importance and benefits of cycling. The cars aren't formally blocked but muscled out of the way by the sheer numbers of bicycles. The lack of clear and formal organisation is mainly due to people avoiding legal issues and responsibilities.

rahhh - photo not actually in Paris
The difficult thing for English speaking people researching this movement in Paris though is that its not called critical mass, its called “Velorution and the website seems to currently be under construction because I am currently having problems accessing any specific information from it. Again though this could be due to the fact that it tries to keep a low profile on its events for legal reasons.

However I have managed to ascertain the following information from another website which has the most comprehensive list of meetings I have managed to find to date, and the good news is that YES Paris does have a monthly meeting!

Rides are held on the first Saturday of every month at Place de la Bastille at 2pm.

Being on holidays for the next month means that I wont be able to attend the meeting for August, but to be honest I’d expect that meeting to be pretty calm seeing as most Parisians will be on holidays. 

However if you are interesting a great first hand account there is a great article about it here from another girl who seems to be quite like me.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The history of the banks of the Seine - Paris sur Seine

The seine was once again an occasion for an outing, but this time not actually visiting the river itself but an exhibition about the history of the use of the seine, more notably its use for leisure activities. Having previously expressed my enjoyment of the Paris Plage phenomenon, I’m still going to stand my ground even though many of my friends have repeatedly argued to the counterpoint. 

To be honest the recent poor weather has not helped my enthusiasm either.

What ever about peoples reservations about being attired in swimwear in central Paris, the exhibition about the history of the seine, highlighted it’s rich history full of diverse uses. From fireworks to boat jousting, down to its origins as the central port of Paris before the canals came into operation and even interesting images from the era when Paris's bridges were actually housing.
Q: where do you live? A:Pont Neuf
Also check out this photo of a cyclist launching him self into the Seine, and that was before the redbull flugtag was ever invented!

As the exhibition was free I would definitely recommend attending as it has just the right amount of posters and maps as well as some videos from the later 1900s. Its central location in the Hotel de Ville is also very convenient. The entrance for this exhibition is along the Rue de Rivoli.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Tour De France 2011

Okay lets be honest here, I in previous years have always thought the Tour de France was about as interesting as a trip to the Post Museum, I was once again proved wrong and had my interest re sparked when I saw the tour going over the Pont St Nazarre. I became interested, mainly due to the fact that I also have cycled over this huge bridge, which happened to be one of the most amazing, but scary experiences of my cycle holiday in 2009. Following this stage I have been catching up with the Tour de France nearly everyday.

Now don’t think that I’m a hard core cyclist or fan of this sport, as far as I'm concerned the Tour is a thinly veiled international advertisement for the tourism industry of France, with the overhead helicopter hovering for minutes over every slightly significant town church, modern building of note, waterfall, cliff, mountain or even a pack of vultures. These important parts of the cycling competition are even sometimes accompanied by music. To be honest I actually enjoy these little Architectural detours into the sights of provincial French life and it does entice me to perhaps visit these regions. The one thing however that might be a big negative factor to the appeal to these regions are the people, once again the only thing letting the French down are the French themselves. 

Stepping right out onto the road, waving flags in the cyclists faces, taking their shirts off to swing them around,  and even on some of the uphill climbs running along the cyclists while shouting “encouragements” at them. Or even all of the above. All this is the typical behaviour of the average French cycling fan hungry for their 2 seconds of fame. Seriously the competition seems physically hard enough with out having to over come the mental challenge of resisting  the temptation of swinging your fist at a couple of these idiots.

While there have been many an annoying spectator nothing has been more dangerous this year than the media cars that are supposed to be reporting on the tour, who have twice crashed into the cyclists. Resulting in severe physical injury's.

This is unfortunately the second time this level of un-professionalism has been on display from the Media in this years Tour. With over 170 vehicles allowed to drive with the cyclists a greater level of caution and maybe a reduction in the amount of cars should be considered.

Unfortunately this year my impending holidays mean I wont be able to watch the competition finishing up on the Champs Elysée in Paris on the 24th of July and get my own 2 seconds of fame.

Friday, 15 July 2011

"Paris Respire" taking a break from traffic

Working weekend nights has its disadvantages, one of which is not being able to get up early, many is the day where I have viewed and enjoyed the sunshine from the comfort of my bed. However it is not impossible, so following a series of missed weekend days I decided to get out of bed earlier than planned and do something with my day.

One thing I have been meaning to do on a Sunday afternoon is go for a cycle along the Seine, of course you can cycle at any time along the seine, but on a Sunday Paris implements a scheme called “paris respire” this scheme is actually very success full and popular and allows many family's to go out and enjoy a car free Paris. of course the scheme is not in operation in all of Paris, but it is in operation in some of the nicest areas.
I don't know all the locations but here are a few that I am familiar with
  • The Seine
  • Montmartre
  • Canal St Martin
  • The Marais.
The officialwebsite is difficult to navigate but it has an interactive map with the zones indicated as well as options on the left for close up maps of the individual areas such as Montmartre. However I personally find that the best thing to do is have a look at the signs posted in the areas, but since I'm nice ill post a few maps of my favourite cycling areas that I managed to track down.
the Canal

The Seine

Having arranged to meet any friends that were interested, I headed down to the Quai de la Rapée. At the achievable hour of 3pm,  Being somewhat early had its benefits and while waiting a group of about 2000 roller bladers passed by, and left me wondering if there are any similar events for bicycles?
The Weather was fantastic and while it was great to be out enjoying it, we were not the only ones who had a similar idea, and the quays along the seine were chocker block with families walking, roller blading and lounging around.

We enjoyed cruising up and down the seine several times, worth a special mention is the segment of the scheme that runs through the tunnel, the experience of visiting the tunnel with out being in a car is quite surreal, also the best thing about the tunnel is that since its dark most of the pedestrians seem to stay out, which allows you to speed up and stretch your legs while cycling. 
This was a great experience for my friends who had not done much cycling in Paris and especially around main traffic, however a close brush with a zig zagging 5 year old left me thinking maybe traffic is not that bad.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Playing Petanque at the Bassin de la Villette

Why is it when Irish people go anywhere on holiday it rains? 
This stereotype has never been more clearly demonstrated than by my friends recent visit to Paris. one month earlier we had been basking in glorious sunshine and 30 degree heat and next thing you know Irish people arrive and we get rain, clouds and a temperature maximum of 18 degrees.

Anyway after the lamented departure of my Irish compatriots a mandatory heatwave ensued. what to do during the hot weather in Paris is always a difficult question, considering Paris has a complete lack of coast line (a la Dublin) or complete lack of swimmable rivers and lakes (a la Zurich).

Of course the city's way of compensating for this is with the “Paris Plage” this phenomenon is when they shut down some of the streets around the Seine and turn them into “beaches”. A lot of people are quick to criticise these spaces and while they are far from the real thing they do allow people such as myself to don a bikini and douse myself with ice cold water every 20 minutes right in the centre of Paris. 
Nothing seems stranger than sunbathing in said bikini while 200 tourist walk past on the bridge above you on the way to Notre Dame, but having frequented Paris Plage previously in 2008, trust me the break from the heat is a welcome relief.
the grass and deck beaches mean no sand in your swimsuit

However seeing as this year Paris Plage only starts on the 20th of July an alternative has to found, and considering the only thing your likly to enjoy along the seine at the moment is a mouth full of car and tour boat exhaust fumes, the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th seemed like a suitable waterside solution. Cycling along one of my favourite routes by the Canal I once again enjoyed seeing people out enjoying the hot weather, even if it was a little quieter seeing as it was an ordinary working day and the extreme heat was forcing people to stay out of the direct heat.

Having so few people about though was a bonus and upon arriving to the canal I managed to find a perfect spot by the waterside, but with lovely tree casting a shadow onto the ground nearby.

After spreading out my picnic blanket and pillow people slowly started arriving. While the aim of the day had been to play petanque (see my version of rules below), chilling out and chatting seemed higher on the agenda. While we did have one or two games we only ever played to first to 5 instead of the traditional 13. We even managed to get our photo taken for the local website (bottom right), in an article about the heat wave.
our picture from the article

With the sun still beating down and shadows on the south side of the canal becoming more and more scarce we switched sides before hunger finally drove us home. Seeing as it was now quite late in the evening, the canal had completely changed from a meagre scattering of sunbathers earlier in the day, to crowded and busy, with brasseries and cafés in full swing.

Over all a good day and some nice cycling. Also I was very grateful to have my saddlebag with me so I could put the game of boules on my bike, because an 8 ball set is quite heavy.

For those of you not familiar with petanque here is a quick summary the rules I know.

1.    Each person gets 2 balls or “boules”
2.    Someone throws the small ball called the “le cochonnet” or jack
3.    Everyone takes turns to throw 1 of their balls closest to the jack
4.    The furthest person away goes first in the second round of ball throwing , followed by the next furthest ect.
5.    The person with their ball closest gets one point
6.    If the same person owns the 2 closest balls they get 2 points
7.    This traditionally continues until someone reaches 13, or what ever number everyone agrees on, as people get bored easily
Apparently you can play in teams ect, but not too sure about that. I do know that if you are only 2 people you can split the balls evenly getting 3-4 balls each, which means the points go up faster and the game is shorter.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Ride through Cycling History

Postponing this exhibition until my fellow bicycle fanatic friend Helen arrived, I was not disappointed.
This exhibition called Voyages a Vélo, is located in the heart of the Marais and is not very obvious to the public being located up a small side street in a generally unremarkable building.
After a quick snack of excellent falafel and a coffee, we felt the time was right to go for a spin into check out these bicycles. The exhibition costs €3-€6, and after asking for the “tariff reduit” we quickly viewed the small section upstairs before making our way down to the main exhibition space downstairs.
I took one photo without any flash before being told that all photography was forbidden. However you can still take more in secret without the flash as there are not too many security people.
The exhibition chronicles the development of the bicycle through time, and starts out appropriately enough with the “hobby horse” style bicycle before starting to explain the popularity of this type of transport as well as its development. While the exhibition is all in French some of the funniest parts were the posters and articles in English from England which clearly demonstrates the type of stuffy upper middle class people that would have been able to afford a bicycle at the time.

The exhibition is overall interesting enough and has a great selection of bicycles as well as bicycle paraphernalia from different eras. Having read up a little on the history of the bicycle before going I especially enjoyed seeing the development of ladies and cycling. Originally the ladies bicycle was a giant cumbersome beast of a contraption kinda like a giant 3 wheeled tricycle, the ladies eventually  saw how pointless these were and instead of developing the bicycle decided to develop their clothing to be more suited to riding “men's” bicycles. Hence ladies trousers or “bloomers” were born and women started to develop “rational dress” . All joking aside the bicycle was credited to have greatly effected the women's rights movement and this can clearly be seen in the fact that most of the posters in the exhibition have a woman in the foreground. Including the poster for the exhibition itself.

What was also really impressive to see was how organised cyclists were back then and you could view old cycle lane maps for around the greater Paris area as well as leaflets telling you how to defend your rights on the road as a cyclist.

Overall the exhibition takes a look at the development of bicycles and bicycles as a hobby and I really enjoyed it. The Exhibition also has a great book that accompanies it but it sadly costs €20 and is only in French. If you have any interest in bicycles get on your bicycle and head over to this before it ends. Ironically though its central location on a small street in the Marais means that bicycle parking is not easily available and you will have to walk a bit to get there.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Anish Kapoor - inside the Leviathan

So after many an unfruitful attempt at visiting this exhibition I finally managed to gain entry to the inside the belly of the Leviathan.
The day we went happened to be one of the most unpredictable days weather wise I have ever experienced. One moment the sun is shining down, and the next, usually when you have finally decided to brave the concept of going outside the heavens open up and release a deluge that seem to suggest that god himself is angry with you. 

However this did result in a smaller than usual queue at the exhibition, but this didn't matter as I had already booked and printed out our tickets from on-line
Visiting this time with 2 friends from Ireland, we proceeded to take photos in the spirit of the exhibition.

After a quick stroll around we  entered into the belly of the beast with absolutely no wait, apparently there had been a performance on in the space last time I visited and this resulted in the large slow moving queue. Entering the dark space through a rotating black door you instantly notice your ears popping as a result of the change in air pressure required to keep the large structure inflated. The sound of people tapping and banging the outside skin is also far more interesting from the inside as the noise echo's and reverberates remarkably. 

While I had previously been cursing our fowl luck with the ever changing weather I was now enraptured with what seemed like a veritable performance from the sky, one moment the sky being cloudy leaving the Leviathan dull and dark

and the next the sunlight piercing through the clouds creating dramatic cast shadows and a series of ooohs and ahhs from the enveloped crowds. 

After enjoying the internal experience of the Leviathan as well as the now obligatory posing we proceeded to go back out to the rest of the exhibit have a further look around the beast.
speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil

A browse through the book shop was required in order to escape the fresh shower that had just started, but after another series of funny poses we were more than satisfied and happily on our way. 
For those of you still interested in going the exhibition finished on the 23rd of June. Sorry

Friday, 24 June 2011

Rock and stroll - Cité de la Musique

With only 2 days left before my 26th birthday I finally managed to get out to the visit the Cité de la Musique. This Museum is not as central as the rest and is located in the 19th Arrondisment in the Park de la Villette, this however is a bonus as it allows me to take my favourite route along the canal to get to the museum.
Arriving to the the museum the entrance is clearly posted and is actually incorporated into one of Bernard Tschumi's  red “folly's”. When you enter the space you are instantly impressed by the size of the space. 

After getting my free ticket I proceeded through the music shop to the start of the exhibition. Clearly a question that had come to my mind before attending the museum was how do they exhibit something visually, that can really only really be experienced by listening, without having a series of clashing speakers blaring out random sounds in an effort to compete with each other. Well the solution was actually easier than I imagined. This museum provides every one with a audio guide, this guide has headphones and allows you to key in a number beside displays, screens and instruments. This allows you to synchronise up to the relevant TV screen and listen to the opera being performed, the historical background of the instrument, interviews and you can even listen to individual instruments being played.

The museum itself has a large collection of very ornate and old instruments and as you slowly wind your way up to though the different ages it becomes very interesting to learn when and how new instruments that we now take for granted were invented and introduced to the public, as well as seeing instruments that are now nearly obsolete.
triple guitars?

The day we were there was very quiet but there was still a live demonstration by a very talented man on the trombone. He explained the instrument how it worked and how he created the different sounds, as well as playing some very good music.

Arriving into the final space is the most impressive as this is housed in the topmost roof space.

This space also starts to chronicle the development of modern recording and mixing techniques, and has a good selection of early mixing desks which now seem so large and cumbersome that its funny. However the museum does only have a limited amount of stuff about the development of modern music, as it seems to concentrate mainly on the classical side, which is a shame as it hardly acknowledges the development of rock punk techno. But then I suppose you would need an entire other museum to properly chronicle the development of music in the last 100 years. 

The final displays deal with instruments from different cultures such as India Africa and China, these sections are quite small though but still impressive.
Only after exiting the museum  did I see the sectional model and realise that there is actually a entire theatre music space located just beside the museum, and that is why the entire building is called the Cité de la Musique. Next time I visit I plan on seeing a performance.
the museum is the small narrow part on the left of the auditorium

Otherwise the museum was very enjoyable even for someone who has no grounding in music and does not play any instruments it was very basically and easily explained. The museum is also much larger than I thought and as a result my audio guide ran out of battery in the last portion of the museum. With lots of bicycle parking located in the park de la Villette right outside I would recommend going for a picnic with some friends before heading in.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The power of words at the The museum of Letters and Manuscripts

Having recently limited my visits of museums to ones solely located in the museum pass guide, it was nice to go to a much smaller museum off the beaten path. Brought to my attention by a friend who is always bringing me to new places when she visits me in Paris. The museum of letters and manuscripts is located on the Boulevard Saint Germain and is indeed something I would have never visited by myself as the museum is surprising larger than the modest doorway is is located through.

This museum is not part of the free for under 26s category but I only had to pay a mere €5 to get in. The current temporary exhibition is about the impressionist artists and features many letters from the most famous impressionist to each other. 

As an anglophone it is slightly disappointing but yet understandable that this small museum does not have the explanatory texts translated into English. Most of the letters collected by the museum are by French people who seem to have possibly the worst handwriting ever. This however is compensated by the some of the other sections of the museum which are divided into some interesting categories, such as music - Beethoven,  science - Einstein,  writers - Victor Hugo and political leaders such as JFK. Most interesting for me was seeing some famous writers letters such as Oscar Wilde and Hemingway. Also on show was Thomas Edison sketches showing how the light bulb was invented(most likely drawn during the day). 

This small museum is definitely worth a visit and since it is not one of the mainstream museums there are no queues and you will find yourself in a calm tourist free atmosphere where you can enjoy most of the exhibition spaces alone. There was plenty of bicycle parking available across the road and the area is also quite central and its easy to find lots of nice little restaurants for lunch or dinner after.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Time and Error at the Decorative Arts museum

Once again my in ability to schedule correctly has left me with what I would describe as a partial visit to a gallery or exhibition, this time to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, or decorative Arts museum to you and me. 
After recently discovering that this museum is in fact located in the North Western wing of the Louvre I was quite eager to go check it out. However arriving a mere 1 hour before the closing of the museum is not recommended as the museum is much larger than I predicted and spread out over 9 floors the top one of which is actually located in the tower at the very end of the Louvre. 

After having a quick wander through the animals and design section, where we views crocodile tables, dog chairs, and leopard skin coats, we wandered over to the tower which chronicled the development of design from the 40s to the 2000s. Getting the lift to the 9th floor was quite exciting and when you enter the space you can instantly recognise that you are in the tower part of the Louvre. 

After trying to quickly make my way through the decades I got as far as the chairs in the 60s and 70s before getting completely distracted  and spending all my time sitting in the hanging transparent egg chair watching clips from 60/70s films with chairs in them. Boom time to go.

After rushing out I was very disappointed that I did not get to see more of the museum especially the section on  toys, art deco, and fashion and textiles. However the good news is that I will be able to visit again, just that I will have to pay the price (€9) of being a 25 year old who can’t get up early.

Monday, 13 June 2011

3rd time lucky for visiting Anish Kapoor

The name of this series of exhibitions at the Grand Palais is called “Monumenta” and despite first impressions this does not make direct reference to the size of the queue at the door
So after trying to go to this exhibition 2 times previously I finally bit the bullet at bought the tickets on-line before going as time was running short. The effort and extra €1 of having bought the tickets on-line was definitely worth it as we swanned directly with no hassle and more importantly no queue.

For people that have never been to the Grand Palais before lets make one thing clear. Its a one trick pony. That trick being one giant space with a 200meter long Nave and a 45 meters beneath its central dome and the pony being the Epic (capital E) building that it is.

Entering the space I was at once hit by the sheer size of the work of art. Its HUGE. After a quick wander around though I noticed another queue. That's right there is a second queue inside the exhibition to enter into the space of the “leviathan”. Yup, another queue. And this one was also quite long and to top it off seemed to be moving slower than your average snail.
this photo was taken from our position in the queue (see left)

After queueing for 15minutes, we realised that this was a pointless effort as we had planned to meet friends for drinks soon. And decided to enjoy the rest of the exhibition. The rest of the exhibition was really good, in so far as we just walked around the giant object and were constantly impressed by its sheer size.

When we did finally manage to meet our friend for drinks, I was disappointed to hear that the best part of the exhibition is indeed getting inside the object. Still I did enjoy the exhibition and will definitely be going again soon to see the interior.

Here are some tips given to me by my friend who has already been.
  • Try and go first thing when it opens in the morning
  • Buy your tickets on-line
  • Go on a sunny day as apparently the shadows of the roof structure of the Grand Palais on the inside of the leviathan space is quite striking.


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