FRANCE

Partly by accident and partly by design we were in London on April 25th which is Anzac Day in Australia. This date is the anniversary of the ill-fated landing by Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallopoli in the First World War. In both countries Anzac Day provides an opportunity to honour and thank all the men and women who have served in conflicts on behalf of these two countries. The Anzac Day dawn service is always a moving and solemn occasion and experiencing it in London was a unique experience.

We used the Anzac Day Services in London as our impetus to travel to Northern France to visit the various cemeteries and monuments that have been constructed to not only give soldiers who fell in conflict a final resting place but to also serve to remind us constantly of the pointlessness and misery that surrounds so many armed conflicts, particularly the brutal carnage of WW1.

We commenced a tour of significant cemeteries. First the massive La Targette graveyard for French soldiers who died trying to preserve their homeland from German invasion. Benoit Odelet and Liliane Chanson were both kind enough to tour the cemetery with me and give context to the overwhelming sea of headstones.

We then moved on to the British Cemetery in Ovillers before moving on to the German cemetery at Neuville-St Vaast. It was here that, as I stared stunned at the massive number of headstones, I learnt each headstone accounted for four dead soldiers. The impact of destruction was quadrupled. Fittingly Stig and I finished this segment at the Australian 1st Division Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux. Seeing the thousands of names of fallen Australians etched into the walls of the memorial and the hundreds of wreaths laid only the day before at the Anzac Day service was overwhelmingly emotional. We left with heavy hearts, the words of the Anzac Ode etched in our memory and hearts.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

From Northern France we headed straight to Paris with the aim of capturing this amazing city in images that would do any travel diary proud. I needed help to find the ‘hidden secrets’  and found it in spades from Patrick Colpron an Instagram curator and photographer with an incredible knowledge the city. Our examination of Paris began from the backseat of an open-top Citreon 2CV named Clementine under the command of the thoroughly entertaining Roman. What enormous fun we had rolling through the streets of Paris in locations popular and obscure, in rain and shine. Some terrific images to choose from for a potential Photo Number 2.

As we learnt from London, a city viewed from it’s waterways provides anther viewpoint that many people don’t see so we motored the Seine with Goran from River Limosines. The views were fantastic but we were sobered with the news that Goran’s sister in law had died in the terrorist attacks on the Bataclan. A stark reminder that behind all the beauty Paris offers lies a troubled and violent history.

It was time to meet up with Patrick again. He took us to a special place under the Ponte Tournelle where he showed me how to ‘make it rain’ with your own water and grab a wonderful reflection shot. My Paris photo album was filling very quickly!

The highlight of my hidden secrets tour was a slightly risqué invasion of the abandoned Petite Ceinture, or Little Belt, railway. A railway that circumnavigated the city, it’s usefulness and popularity faded with the creation of the Metro. As the city buzzed around us Patrick and I walked back in time in one of the most unique locations I have ever visited. I was close to finding my perfect shot to sum up Paris!

But what about the Eiffel Tower though? Surely the most iconic image to be captured, but from what perspective? Patrick found me some fun, scary  and cold ways to photograph this wonderful symbol of Paris.

In the end I was happy with my choice of photo to sum up Paris and, for once, Stig agreed!

Is anyone prepared to dispute that Paris is the world’s most romantic city? Of course there would be plenty of argument about that but I decided to test romance in Paris. I heard that many people travel to Paris to not only get married but also have all their Pre and Post Wedding photography done there. P6 found wedding photographer Pierre Torset who was more than happy to take us on a couple of his wedding shoots. We quickly found out that certain locations were red hot for this type of photography. Eiffel Tower, naturally, The Louvre, naturally, Notre Dame, naturally. But Pierre also found charming streets, doorways and cafe’s to be the frame for the love he was capturing with his camera. As a former professional portrait photographer I was back in an element that I knew and love so much. Pierre demonstrated that he is a master at bringing the best out of his subjects and I learnt a lot from him. We also explored other attractions in the city, such as the I Love You wall, that broadcast a message of love in every language.

 

The time had come for a touch of indulgence so we headed to the Champagne area of France for some culinary delights. Our first stop was at a snail farm. Escargot is considered a delicacy around the world and, to feed the demand for this edible mollusc, farms such as L’Escargot des Grand Crus are essential. Many snails are edible but the Grand Crus or Big Grey is considered one of the finest. After spending some time photographing and holding the Grand Crus at the farm I found myself incapable of eating one.

From snails to Champagne. We visited the Ernest Rémy Champagne house because it was a family business manufacturing boutique limited edition wines. Winery manager and cellarmaster,Tarek Berrada, explained the unique fermentation process employed to develop their special brand of pink champagne. I am not an avid champagne drinker but this wine was truly special. The tour of the cellar was a highlight of this segment. We learnt that champagne grapes grow best in chalk which is abundant in the area surrounding all the great Champagne houses.

Our culinary odyessy was not done yet though we still needed dessert! Chocolate was on the menu, but not just any old chocolate. I was introduced to Xavier Thibault master chocolatier at La Chocolaterie Thibault. After a quick practical training session I was more than ready to sample Xavier’s delightful creations that had my palate singing in praise.

Our journey to Champagne was sealed with a visit to Dom Perignon’s resting place in the Abbaye Saint-Pierre in the charming village of Hautvillers. Our guide, Isabelle Roelly, explained that makers of champagne were trying to REMOVE the bubbles from the wine that developed in the fermentation process because they weren’t to people’s taste. That is until the King decided that bubbles were tres bon and Dom Perignon’s champagne became the toast of France.

 

Back in Paris, our next adventure was an examination of the unique art scene in this most artistic of cities. Street art is prolific in the streets of the French capital. Sometimes entire buildings have become a canvas. No visit to Paris would be complete without a street art tour so you can track down the most celebrated art and artists. After exploring Paris streets it was time for a little indulgence. Stig and I created a short film in 2016 called Dying for a Laugh and it happened to be screening at the Paris Short Film Festival. So we used an afternoon off to help officially launch the festival and watch our film screening in the most wonderful location imaginable.

The next day we visited 59 Rivoli. I had found this building in my research and it was clear immediately that it was a unique counter culture art space that had to be visited. Located at the centre of the commercial district 59 Rivoli was a building that had been abandoned by the state and was taken over by three artists in 1999. Unsuccessful attempts were made to remove them until Mayor Bertrand Delanoë made good on his promise to purchase the building and formalise it as a studio and performance space. Now 20 artists work permanently in the building with ten temporary resident artists staying between 3 to 6 months at a time. This extraordinary space has no doors by design and visitors can wander the halls and studios dropping in on artists at work. Truly unique. We had a incredibly stimulating and funny time there with American artist James Purpura and two of the original inhabitants of the building Gaspard Delahoe and Francesco Bouhbal.

If you are visiting Paris Rivoli 59 is a must see!

 

Choosing Photo Number 6 was threatening to be an impossible act until I remembered a photograph that we grabbed almost as an afterthought. It was a photo of a banner being erected on the Eiffel Tower. But I won’t show it here – this is a spoiler free zone!