Big City Tales

The Many Marvels of Musee d’Orsay

June 12, 2018
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When the Gare d’Orsay railway station first opened in 1900, its Beaux-Arts design was the talk of the town in Paris. Chief amongst its admirers was local painter Edouard Detaille, who prophetically penned that the station had the appearance of an art gallery. Little did he know that some 86 years later the station would, in fact, be converted to an art museum, and some of his own prized works would be hung on its walls. The remarkable journey from station to museum is just one of the many marvels of Musee d’Orsay that highlights mostly French painters and sculptors, but also includes masterpieces from notable international artists such as Klimt, Munch, van Gogh and Whistler.

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Amazing Architectural Backdrop

In taking on the station to museum conversion project, the ACT Architecture group was fortunate to have a building with ‘good bones’ that just needed a little tweaking in order to best serve its new purpose. With its high, vaulted ceiling and long, narrow main corridor bathed in natural light and accented by decorative plasters and arches, the designers stayed true to the original station look and layout while adding 20,000 square metres of new floor space.

The Main Hall consists of large, sumptuous sculptures in the central nave that are flanked with numerous side galleries where paintings and other smaller works are displayed. Along the far wall, the opulent and ornate D’Orsay clock designed by Victor Laloux for the original railway station is still mounted and is a work of art in and of itself.

The upper floor features a wide terrace that overlooks the Main Hall below and opens into additional galleries containing more paintings, photographs and a variety of decorative arts.

Homegrown Talent

French artists such as Cabanel, Couture, Delacroix, Fantin-Latour, Ingres, Tissot and de Toulouse-Lautrec amongst a host of others feature prominently in the Musee D’Orsay’s collection of paintings that cover the time period 1848-1914. Selected highlights include The Birth of Venus by Cabanel; Romans during the Decadence by Couture, and In Bed by de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masters

The Musee D’Orsay contains the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, including many works by Cezanne, Degas, Gaugin, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Renoir, Rousseau, Seurat, Sisley, van Gogh and other masters.

Poppy Field by Monet and Starry Night over the Rhone by van Gogh are some of the famous works displayed in the galleries.

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The Ooh-La-La Factor in the French Riviera

April 19, 2018
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Known for its vivid blue waters and extensive shoreline, the Cote d’Azur region (a.k.a the French Riviera) in the southeast corner of France is one of the world’s first modern resort areas. Originally a winter spa getaway destination for British royals and members of the upper class in the late 1800s, the area eventually started attracting other European aristocrats, as well as literary and artistic types who were drawn to its warm climate and beautiful surroundings. To this day, the ooh-la-la factor in the French Riviera is undeniable and seaside spots such as Cannes, Nice, Saint-Tropez and Toulon serve up an array of amazing scenes and experiences that are also, thankfully, able to now be enjoyed by one and all.

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Beach Scene

From the Promenade des Anglais public boardwalk in Nice to the private topless beaches in Saint-Tropez, the French Riviera coastline stretches for 115 kilometres and the mild, Mediterranean climate serves up over 300 days of sunshine. Be sure to pack some Bain de Soleil sunscreen to obtain the perfect golden glow, and seek refuge under an umbrella or in a tent when the temperatures soar in the summer months.

Of course, being a beach bum is perfectly acceptable in this part of the world, and there are plenty of beaches to choose from. Monte Carlo Beach was originally built from imported sand and Princess Grace was known to spend time at it. Plage de Tahiti (Tahiti Beach) in Saint-Tropez was made famous by actress Brigitte Bardot in the 1950s/60s and is known for its afore-mentioned topless/nude sunbathers.

Food Scene

Whether it’s a picnic on the beach or a snack at the market, the food offerings in the French Riviera are guaranteed to be served up fresh and fragrant. Grab a baguette from the local patisserie, pair it with some wine, cheese, salami and grapes and, voila, lunch is ready (don’t forget some macarons for dessert!). Seafood options are also plenty and the region is noted for its jumbo-sized oysters and scrumptious Bouillabaisse soup made straight from the catch of the day. Ratatouille is another popular dish that can be eaten on its own or as a side-dish for fish and meat. Salade nicoise is a specialty of Nice along with socca (chickpea pancakes) and pissaladiere (onion, olive and anchovy tart).

Hotel Scene

Be it a hillside villa, beachfront resort, or inner city hostel, there is an accommodation option catering to all budgets and tastes. The French Riviera is busy year-round and there are many two-star, three-star and luxury hotels operating at peak capacity, especially during the summer months. The area’s major seaside resorts include Menton,  Villefranche sur Mer and Monte Carlo in the east; Nice, Cannes and Antibes in the central region; and Saint-Tropez and Sainte Maxime in the west.

Shopping Scene

When the afternoon sun becomes too hot to bear, head inland to the luxury shops in Monte Carlo, or the famous Flower Market and large malls in Nice. Like the hotel options, there is an affordable price-point for everyone and certainly a wide variety of local and imported designer goods to choose from.

Water Scene

While many tourists descend on the French Riviera solely to hit the beach and soak up the sun, the Mediterranean coastline is full of other fun water-related activities. Saint-Tropez holds an annual regatta every September that attracts the super-yacht jet-set crowd; Cannes offers sailboat rentals in its port and beachfront hotels; and Monaco is home to the Museum of Oceanology that features many fish, crab and eel species in its aquarium, and contains marine artifacts dating back to the Middle Ages.

Picture-Perfect Paradise

With its temperate year-round climate and vivid colours saturated by the sun, little wonder that the French Riviera has attracted some of the world’s best painters over the centuries. From the Impressionists to the Expressionists to the Surrealists, the pretty seascape was irresistible and produced numerous prints of the region from the likes of Cezanne, Chagall, Matisse, Monet, Picasso and Renoir.

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