PLUIE À PARIS

The city of Paris is unquestionably one of the most romantic places in the world. Its tree lined boulevards and ornate facades, the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe as well as the River Seine and all of its bridges all add to the air of romanticism that constantly envelopes the city. Aside from these, one thing that also made me fall madly in love with Paris was when rain started falling on it. The city sparkles and gleam brightly when wet…so instead of escaping from the rain, I walked into it with my umbrella and camera embracing the sense of solitude that it provided me. The photographs in this post were taken on the days it rained while I was in Paris. The first two were taken at The Louvre, the third one was at my hotel’s neighborhood at Avenue Kléber while the last one was right outside of Musée D’Orsay. I also decided to present the photographs in black and white to create a timeless look in them. The title is simply a French translation of the words “Rain in Paris”, which I thought sounded more sexy in French.

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AMERICA’S DOWNTON ABBEY

The Biltmore Mansion near Asheville, North Carolina is the largest privately owned house in the United States. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895, the estate remains under the ownership of his descendents to this day. A trip to Asheville won’t be complete without a visit to this expansive estate so as soon as my travel plans were confirmed I immediately booked my ticket for a visit. I took a self-guided tour of the house with an audio guide, which was a good soure of information about the Vanderbilt family as well as that of the construction and life inside the mansion. My exploration of the house took me not only to the family rooms, bedrooms, dining hall and offices but also to the kitchen, pantries and servants quarters. The entire place reminded me very much of the British series Downtown Abbey, which was about a noble family and their help during the Gilded Age. America may not be a monarchy but the Vanderbilts were the closest to royalty this country could ever have. Photography is allowed inside and outside the house but the photos I’m featuring on this post were all taken outside.

THE LONG WALK

Today the whole world watched a fairytale unfold as American girl Meghan Markle married her prince charming, Henry Charles Albert David fondly called by everyone as Prince Harry who is a member of the British Royal family. The wedding was held at the St. George’s Chapel inside the compound of the Windsor Castle and was broadcasted live for the whole world to see. Watching the festivities on tv this morning brought back memories of my visit to Windsor three years ago. I was in London for vacation and booked a day tour to the royal compound where I got to explore and photograph Queen Elizabeth’s weekend home. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the buildings so most of my photographs were just of the facades. While walking on the grounds in front of the castle, I saw an arch with an opening to a view of a long road extending all the way to the horizon. I took multiple photos of the arch not knowing what the road was for. Today my question was finally answered…Prince Harry and Meghan was carried down this road on a horse drawn carriage to greet thousands of well wishers. The road is called The Long Walk and it connects Windsor Castle to a park called Snow Hill. According to legend, King Henry VIII sat at Snow Hill to wait for news about the execution of his wife Queen Anne Boleyn. But today a new legend about this road has been made…it will now be known as the road where someone’s fairytale became a reality.

ANCIENT REFLECTIONS

img_0663The highlight of my trip to Granada, Spain was a visit to an ancient palace called The Alhambra. This gigantic complex of walls, palaces, courtyards, gardens and pools was created in the mid-13th century around the end of the Muslim rule in Spain. Alhambra literally translates “The Red (Female)” in reference to the red clay used for the construction of the buildings.  The complex is also filled with jaw dropping Islamic art and architecture reminiscent of the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, both of which I visited in Istanbul, Turkey a few years ago. The photo above was taken at the Court of the Myrtles, named after the myrtle bushes surrounding the pool. At the center of the photo is the northern chamber, a portico with 6 beautifully decorated arches and a tower all magnificently reflected into the pool. The tower is actually part of the Comares Palace, which was the official residence of the king. I tried taking photos of the courtyard at various angles but I realized the best way to capture the courtyard was from the middle at the end of the pool. I used my iPhone 7 Plus to take this photo using the Pano Mode for a wider capture. A friend insisted that I visit the Alhambra while in Granada and I’m glad I listened to her.

ALHAMBRA PALACE

I visited the ALHAMBRA palace and fortress complex in Granada, Andalusia, Spain during my recent trip to Europe. This palatial complex was constructed in AD 889 and then renovated and rebuilt by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada during the mid 13th century. Poets often refer to this palace as “a pearl set in emeralds” and UNESCO declared this a World Heritage Site. The Alhambra reminds me of the great contributions by Muslims to education, healthcare, philosophy and science. In fact, between 8th and 15th century Andalusia was the world’s center for education and knowledge. The photo above was taken in one of the courtyards inside the palace.

CHANDELIER MANDALA

The opulence of the Château de Versailles in Paris, France can never be captured in a photograph. One has to be there to experience the luxury and lavishness of the place and understand the kind of lifestyle the French royals once lived. I found myself exploring one of the many rooms of the palace when my vision got diverted into a heavily decorated ceiling with a crystal chandelier suspended right above me. At first thought, the whole vision reminded me of a mandala, which is a geometric and religious symbol of the universe in Indian religions. In the case of my photograph, I decided to name it a chandelier mandala…a symbol of a lifestyle that most of us will never get to experience.

HALL OF MIRRORS

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles was constructed in 1678 during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. It is the central gallery of the palace and features 17 mirror-clad arches reflecting the palace gardens from the 17 windows across the hall. When I took this photograph, I wished the entire hall was empty although the chances of achieving that in the most visited place in France was beyond impossible. I visited Versailles during the last few weeks of summer right about the end of tourist season and yet the place was packed with tourists from all corners of the globe. I guess I’ll just have to be content with capturing this famous hall with a good number of faces expressing fascination and awe over the opulence of the French nobility. The last royal residents of this palace was the family and court of King Louis XVI and his infamous wife…Marie Antoinette.

QUEEN’S BACKYARD

Buckingham Backyard

Every summer, Queen Elizabeth open the doors of the Buckingham Palace to the public while she takes a vacation in Scotland. My recent trip to London a few weeks ago made a visit to the palace inevitable. Photography is not allowed inside the palace so people were limited to taking photos of the facade (just like every other tourist outside the palace gates the rest of the year).  After the tour, I stepped out of the palace into the backyard and realized that this part of the palace is rarely photographed. Maybe because you will need to be inside the compound to capture this scenery.  In this photo, I love how the cotton candy clouds float on the deep blue skies while the expansive carpet of greens complemented the earthy tones of the palace walls. At first look, you wouldn’t even think of this as the Buckingham Palace. It’s nice to capture the least photographed part of one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

QUEUE OF THE SHADOWS

La queue

In 1682, Versailles opened its doors to anyone wishing to visit the palace and view its extravagant splendour.  Lines of visitors were screened by guards who made sure that no one carried weapons. Visitors were also required to observe proper palace etiquette including wearing a hat and sword, which were available for rent. To this day, people continue to line up by the thousands to have a glimpse of this grand palace minus the need to rent a hat and sword. Instead, you pay an entry fee which comes with a free audio guide.  While standing in line, I noticed the shadows formed by the line of visitors queueing towards the entrance of the palace. I thought it was an interesting photo subject noting that times may have changed but the long line of masses eager to see Versailles remains the same.

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