Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Norfolk Island Museums #4, June 26th 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 28, 2018

The Sirius Museum is the smallest of the Norfolk Island Museums, and really, there’s not much to see, but it’s the most poignant.

Sirius shipwreck signage 3 (excerpt)

‘What will become of us God only knows’… was surely what the unlettered among the ‘500 souls’ were also thinking when they found themselves stranded on Norfolk Island after HMS Sirius was wrecked on the reef.

L to R HMS Supply & HMS Sirius

At the entrance to the museum there are scale models of the HMS Sirius and its much smaller companion, the HMS Supply. While the Supply was the smallest (and fastest) ship in the fleet of 11 vessels bound for Botany Bay to establish a penal colony there, the Sirius was the flagship. Armed with 14 cannon, 6 carronades and 8 swivel guns, its length on deck was 118 ft (almost 36 m) and it had a tonnage of 512 tons. Almost as soon as he arrived at Port Jackson in January, Governor Arthur Phillip despatched the Sirius to take control of Norfolk Island and set it up for commercial development of its timber and flax. After the other ships in the fleet returned to England, the Sirius was to become the Sydney settlement’s insurance against starvation and their only link to the rest of the world.

replica of HMS Sirius

The Norfolk Island Pine turned out to be too soft for masts and spars, and the flax was the wrong species for cordage and sailcloth, but the small settlement at Kingston became an essential source of food supplies for the Sydney settlement because the soil and climate were more benign. The original 15 convicts and seven free men under the leadership of Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King were soon supplemented by more convicts and soldiers to reduce pressure on provisions for the colony at Sydney. So though the Sirius was actually en route to China to buy some much needed tools and other hardware and was only intending to drop off more convicts and personnel en route, the fatal voyage was not the only one between the two settlements.

The Supply landed first and unloaded, moving out of the way so that the Sirius could dock. But when the weather worsened, it was the more nimble Supply that could manoeuvre to safety, while the Sirius came to grief on the reef before unloading.

cannonballs

HMS Sirius anchor

Disastrous as it was, the loss of the Sirius could have been worse. Signage tells of the ingenious methods used over two days to winch those on board to safety and to salvage provisions and weaponry. Signage also relates the escapade of convicts Dring and Branagan who discovered the grog supply on board, got drunk, and set fire to the ship. Another convict unnamed in the signage swam out, put out the fire and returned the two convicts to justice – which could easily have been the gallows but they were spared that (though not severe punishment).

The ship finally broke up two years after wrecking.

ship’s bow

What the signage doesn’t explain (or if it did, I missed it), is what the Supply was doing after it had manoeuvred to safety on the day of the disaster. I think she must have continued on to Batavia where she was bound and then returned to Sydney with fresh supplies without calling in at Norfolk Island. (But why didn’t she hang about a bit, to be sure that Sirius survived the hazardous landing on that fateful day? I bet their respective captains had a ‘bit of a tense chat’ when they were reunited, because Hunter and the crew were marooned on Norfolk for eleven months before the Supply eventually returned. In the interim martial law had been declared and it was in this period that the ‘Providence Petrel’ was almost hunted to extinction in an effort to feed the stranded population. It was not until the following March that King and 22 of the crew returned to Sydney on the Supply and only then did Governor Phillip find out about the disaster.

What must it have felt like, each time their sole remaining ship the Supply set sail out harbour on Norfolk and at Sydney? Everyone must have been well aware that if disaster befell her too, then they were wholly alone until a new ship arrived from England…

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Posted in Museums, Norfolk Island 2018 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Norfolk Museums #3, June 26th 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 28, 2018

Pier store museum

The tourist brochure about the Pier Store Museum has this to say:

The legendary mutiny on board the Bounty has been portrayed in no less than five Hollywood movies, but the true story is to be found here along with major Bounty artefacts.  Life on Pitcairn Island and the resettlement to Norfolk in 1856 are also told.  Today’s rich local culture, including Norf’k language, is revealed in this museum.

Which is to say that it’s a bit of a mish-mash, neither chronologically nor thematically coherent. Still, there’s some interesting stuff.

Journey of the longboat

There’s a scale model of the Bounty and its cannon, and a wonderful painting of the Journey of the Longboat, showing the fragility of the craft into which Bligh and his supporters were despatched by the mutineers.  How he ever got them safely to land (with just a sextant hurled to him from the ship) is a miracle, and one injustice which the museum seeks to rectify is Bligh’s reputation.  Signage tells us that he was actually quite enlightened for the times, that deaths onboard were rare, and that contrary to the dramatic scenes in the movies, he didn’t keelhaul anybody.  The amateur historian in me isn’t exactly sceptical, but I’m mindful that he’s the one who got back to England with a legacy to protect, and that when the mutineers landed on Pitcairn, all the Bounty’s logs were burned along with the ship to avoid detection.

There are also some miscellaneous bits and pieces, not authentic enough for the 2nd settlement period of the House Museum, but interesting in their own right.

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In marked contrast to the prominence given to WW2 history on New Caledonia where they have a whole museum dedicated to it, there’s only a little bit of signage about Norfolk Island in WW2. Due to its strategic position in the South Pacific, the island was used as a staging post for aircraft, a base for submarine patrols and as a refuge for aircraft in distress.  Perhaps because it was manned by Kiwis and not by a huge influx of US servicemen WW2 didn’t have the same social impact on Norfolk Island as it did on New Caledonia, where the racial mix today is evidence of fraternisation to say the least.  But as at New Caledonia the infrastructure built to service military needs was a great benefit to Norfolk Island although the signage gives very little credit to this.  Indeed, the only decent roads today are the ones built back then, and the 20-bed hospital was built then too.  (I keep getting reminders that there’s no money for community infrastructure in a tax-haven.) The biggest benefit was the building of the airstrip, which linked Norfolk Island to the world by air, enabling the growth of tourism and facilitating imports of fresh produce not available on the island.

WW2

There is also, inevitably, more about governance than any tourist wants to know…

Posted in Museums, Norfolk Island 2018 | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Norfolk Island Museums #2 June 26th, 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 28, 2018

I’m catching up on touristy things that we did two days ago because we spent yesterday doing more energetic explorations and when we got back to the cottage there was a really good book that I just had to finish reading.  (See anzlitlovers.com/We Are Not Most People.  I’m drafting this offline, so I haven’t got the URL)

So…

No 10 Quality Row is called the House Museum, because it’s been restored and refurbished as an authentic 2nd Settlement house for one of the officers.  (The 2nd settlement lasted from 1825-1855).  No 10 was built in 1844 as a residence for the (very busy) Foreman of Works, Thomas Seller.  He lived here with his manservant William Jenkins while supervising the building of the other residences, but before the house was built he lived in a wattle-and-daub hut.

Seller, a free settler who arrived in Sydney in 1833) had a wife and two children, but he came here to Norfolk Island in 1839 without them.  Having read some accounts of how women were distressed by the treatment of convicts in the penal colony on Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania), I can guess why she stayed in Sydney with the children.  I’m not at all convinced by the signage’s claim that by the time the Orfords family took up residence,  life was so far removed from the hardships and cruelty occurring just down the road that ladies sitting on the verandah to do their needlework were oblivious to it all.

One of Seller’s pastimes was painting, and his ‘Kingston from Flagstaff Hill’ is still hanging in the bedroom.  The other interesting feature is the trapdoor between the beds.  What was that for, I wonder?

During the Third Settlement, heralded by the arrival of the community from Pitcairn Island in 1856, the house was home to Isaac Young and his wife and 15 children. (Goodness only knows where they put them all!) They lived in the house till the early 1880s, and then a Methodist minister called Phelps moved in.  They called it the Faith Home of Norfolk Island, and converted 100 C of E believers to Methodism.  It reverted to C of E custodianship after that until the murky politics of Norfolk Island governance intervened. Since (despite the best efforts of assorted tour guides) I am sooooo not interested in that, (and neither are other tourists who say they are also sick of it) – suffice to say that this house and all the other buildings on this world heritage site now belong to the Commonwealth Government of Australia.  (And presumably, the restorations were done under their auspices.)

 

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Posted in Historic buildings, Museums, Norfolk Island 2018 | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Norfolk Island Museums #1, June 26th, 2018

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 26, 2018

Today we went to the World Heritage site at Kingston and did the museums.

Commissariat store museum (Tim)

The site is world heritage because it is an almost complete Georgian village.  All the officers’ houses are built to the same design, and some of them are still in use as housing for commonwealth public servants who are seconded here for a year or two.  (Though they are a bit damp, apparently, so some prefer to rent elsewhere.)

Apparently in one of the stoushes over who owns what on Norfolk, the NSW government wanted to charge rent for these houses, and the locals took umbrage over it because they reckon they own the buildings because Queen Victoria gave them the island.  So they burned down some of the houses…

Anyway, first up was the Commissariat Store Museum…

In a small room off to the side, there were some artefacts proving the existence of Polynesian settlement on Norfolk Island, but the reasons why they vanished from here are not known.  There are also some scraps of archaeological evidence of the First Settlement that began in 1788.

There are a lot more artefacts from the Second Settlement.  I particularly like the household items – see the contrast between the china ware that the officers used and the mocha ware used by lesser mortals…

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Crankmill (Tim)

There are also more melancholy exhibits. The crankmill was used solely for the purpose of punishing convicts. It was more slow and inefficient than other methods of crushing grain,  so this machine was just to inflict back-breaking labour on the men.

the kidnapping of Tuki & Huru

There was also the shameful story of two Maori chieftains called Tuki and Huru who were kidnapped so that they could teach the Brits how to weave flax.  The chieftains, of course, had no idea, since it was women’s work.  Eventually they were taken back to New Zealand and released.  The baskets on display were given as gifts, and have an interesting little tale of their own.  In the 21st century they were repatriated to the Kiwis, who promptly returned them, saying that they had been given as gifts, and they don’t take back gifts after they’ve been given.

NI pine & flax

These are tree rings of Norfolk Island pine and flax.  The pine turned out to be too soft for the masts and spars of a ship, but they are still holding up the building very nicely indeed.

If you only have time to see one museum, this is the best one, and the lady who sells the tickets is very knowledgeable and willing to answer questions about anything. ,

PS I’m sorry the layout is a bit of a muddle, I will fix it when I get back home…

Posted in Museums, Norfolk Island 2018 | 1 Comment »

WW2 Museum, Noumea, New Caledonia, Friday September 8th

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 8, 2017

And in the afternoon, we went to the WW2 Museum…

It’s interesting to see the ‘same’ history from a different perspective.  In Europe, if Britain’s Commonwealth allies get a mention, they often forget about the Anzacs, and New Zealand in particular.  But in this museum, the Aussies and the Kiwis were welcome allies against the Japanese, especially before the Americans joined the war.

Can you spot the difference?  Hint: there’s more difference in the hats than in the flags.

IMG_2701 (768x1024)It was interesting to learn that when France capitulated, New Caledonia came under Vichy law but – not keen on that at all – they had a coup toute suite and joined the Free French under De Gaulle.   And say what you like about De Gaulle, he knew how to do a rousing call to arms and heaps of New Caledonians including tribal Kanak chiefs enlisted and fought bravely against fascism.

I learned all this and much more from reading the signage, which is much more detailed in the French version.

They didn’t really have much in the way of actual exhibits, but there were two jeeps:

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and some bits and pieces from a soldier’s kitbag (including a book on how to speak ‘Egyptian’ in a few days…

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and what appeared to be a genuine army issue washbasin (with modern facilities discreetly behind the doors!

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Posted in 2017 New Caledonia, Museums, Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Royal Museums, Brussels, June 12th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 13, 2015

If you’re my age or thereabouts, you remember learning a poem that begins like this at school:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…

The poem is called Musee des Beaux Arts and it’s by W. H. Auden.  It goes on to describe the fall of Icarus, as painted by Brueghel which shows that no one takes any notice of the amazing event – a boy falling out of the sky. The painting is in the Musée Old Masters, part of the complex of Royal Museums here in Brussels.

Old Masters Museum, The Fall of Icarus (Breughel)

Old Masters Museum, The Fall of Icarus (Breughel)

It was one of my favourite poems at school because I loved the line about how the dogs go on with their doggy life, but there are two English teachers in our group who said they didn’t know it, so I guess nobody teaches it any more. What a shame!

There were so many lovely artworks in this museum!
We mainly focussed on early Flemish and Netherlandish art but there are a couple of later works in this slideshow:

 

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After a break for coffee in the cafe, we checked out the Musee Fin-de-Siècle.  These were interesting because there were quite a few Bolshie paintings and a couple of the sculptures looked almost like Stalinist art which made me wonder about Belgian politics at the end of the century.  Were they pro socialism??

Anyway, my favourite from this Fin-de-Siècle collection is the one called Listening to the Music of Schumann.  Does she like it, or not??

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We had a delicious buffet lunch at the Brasserie (ordered in my best French!!) and then we set off round the corner to the Museum of Musical Instruments. We confined ourselves to the second floor where they had the most fantastic collection of classical instruments I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry that the photos are not very good, everything was in glass cabinets and there were lights shining everywhere, but still, I hope you can see the amazing shapes and sizes of the early and experimental versions of the instruments our orchestras use today.

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Tomorrow (yikes!) we have to be on deck at 8:30 for a day trip to Wallonia. Will do my best to report in at the end of the day…

Posted in Art Galleries, Belgium, Brussels, Europe 2015, Museums | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

MC Escher Museum, The Hague, Tuesday June 9th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 10, 2015

Even if you’re not a great fan of MC Escher, the museum is good fun, especially on the top floor where the young and the young-at-heart can play with optical illusions of all kinds.

The house used to belong to the Queen but I am not sure whether the furnishings and more traditional paintings are hers or the Eschers’…

What I liked best of all was the amazing chandeliers –  watch the slideshow to see how stunning they are!

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Posted in Art Galleries, Europe 2015, Museums, Netherlands, The Hague | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Utrecht, Sunday June 7th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 8, 2015

Utrecht is a university town southeast of Amsterdam, about 45 minutes by bus.   It is a lovely place to explore, and we were fortunate to have an expert guide called Ingeborg Behari to show us around.

We started off in the Railway Museum Het Spoorwegmuseum where Ingeborg volunteers as a guide.   We were not interested in the trains, it was the beautiful building that was so captivating.  Typical of many of these grand railway stations built in the 19th century it featured stunning architecture and grand interiors, and this one even has a Royal Waiting Room.  (Though truth be told, this room was actually somewhere else to start with, but was transplanted here to the railway station when it became a museum.  BTW, do check out the height of the mirror in that Royal Waiting Room.   It is absurdly high, impossible even for tall people so its purpose was really to make the room look larger.)

PS (Tuesday)  I had an email from Ingeborg with some extra info about the ceiling of the Royal waiting room.

“Because there were no photos of the original ceiling and the year is the same as Kasteel de Haar (1892) the architects who restored Kasteel de Haar decided the ceiling could have looked like this.”
Thanks, Ingeborg!

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After that, we took a stroll through the canal districts, where Ingeborg regaled us with all kinds of interesting stories about the rich, the famous and the ones who wanted to be.   But one who definitely deserves to be famous is Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen who won a Nobel Prize for discovering X-rays, and you will see a tiled image of him in the slide show below. Utrecht encourages its citizens to come up with good ideas to enhance the city, and as well as ones like this that commemorate its most eminent citizens, there are also some that show paintings from past times, sited in the same place so that visitors can see the place both then and now. The best of these is the one that shows the cathedral before the tornado blew half of it away in 1674.

Utrecht is also very excited about two major events this year. They are hosting the start of the Tour de France, and they are celebrating the 60th ‘birthday’ of Miffy. If you don’t know who Miffy is, you had a deprived childhood, because the Miffy books are enchanting.  There are large Miffys all over the city, decorated by various artists, but this one is wearing a cape to keep it warm, courtesy of university students who play all kinds of pranks in the city, including chucking some of the ubiquitous bikes into the canals, so much so that they have had to increase the depth!

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We were sorry to come to the end of the tour, but we enjoyed a nice lunch at Graaf Floris.  Tim had Kroketten (which are, you guessed it, croquettes) and I had pork satays.  He also sampled two of the local beers including one drunk with a slice of lemon in it, and I had a cup of honeybush tea which was divine.  I haven’t had a decent coffee in the Netherlands yet, but their herbal teas are really nice.

We had just enough time to buy some bread, cheese and sausage at the Farmers’ Market for an in-hotel meal tonight and to duck into the cathedral before it was time to go.  The cathedral is gorgeous, restrained and elegant by comparison with the more extravagant Catholic cathedrals, and I was especially impressed by the altar which looks from a distance as if it is made of ivory.

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And then we were off to see Kasteel de Haar…

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Dining out, Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Museums, Netherlands, Utrecht | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Imperial War Museum, June 4th, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 5, 2015

Today started with a pleasant breakfast at Caffe Russell … a short stroll from the hotel through Russell Square.  There’s a pretty fountain, and lots of dogs rampaging around in a well-behaved British kind of way, and people sit outside in the sunshine with their briefcases and read the paper. Breakfast is unexceptional but the coffee is good and the wait staff are very friendly and nice. (Yes, you read that right, the coffee is good. It’s like Melbourne coffee).

We took the tube to Lambeth North via Piccadilly Circus, making the acquaintance of friendly Poms who’d been to Australia en route. We started chatting with the first one when he made a joke about making squeezing onto the train an Olympic sport and I said that the Poms would win that event for sure – and it turned out he’d been to Perth though not to Melbourne. Conversation started with the second one when he noticed the Tassie Wooden Boat Centre logo on Tim’s windcheater, and it turned out that he’d worked in Tassie for a year or so, and had spend a little time in Melbourne too. It’s friendly encounters like these that make me work harder at learning foreign languages, because I want to have similar experiences in other countries too, if I can.

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The entrance to the Imperial War Museum is dominated by these massive naval guns from WW1 battleships. They can fire 15″ shells for 29km, and those yellow things in the picture are the shells. It’s quite horrible to think of these things raining death and destruction at sea. But there were more than a few sobering artefacts in the museum, as you’d expect…

The purpose of our visit, however, was to see the Fashion on the Ration exhibition.  (Sorry, no photos allowed).  I was interested in this because my mother was a young woman during the war, and so her young womanhood was spent mostly in uniform.  She was in the ATS, driving POWs up to Leith Fort in Scotland, and ferrying supplies across the channel and salvaging spare parts from wrecked vehicles from near the front.   According to the signage, the ATS uniform was thought to be the most drab, and the lisle stockings a lot less desirable than the smart navy ones worn by women in the other services.

It was fascinating to see how women managed to make the most of the ration and still look quite smart.  There was a lot of mend-and-make-do, and they made sure to wear aprons and wrappers to protect their clothes when they were doing housework, but there were Vogue patterns for some stylish frocks and some amazing accessories made from plastic salvaged from the factories.  There were sobering vignettes about the dangers of factory work: some women did not like to have their hair tied back in those drab nets, but suffered terrible injuries when their hair was caught in the machinery.

When I saw a lifesize image of Dior’s New Look which so captivated my mother after the war, I mentioned it to Tim – and was immediately asked about it by some schoolgirls who were there visiting the exhibition.  The signage was really well done, I thought, but perhaps it had more impact to hear about these things from a real person?  The girls gathered around me and asked about this and that, and so I told them how when my mother was their age that she would have had very few clothes compared to them, and that she was thrilled by the new designs that used so much more material when the restrictions were lifted some years after the war.  We talked about how boys like her brother (my Uncle Pat) were only allowed to have shorts until they were 13, and men couldn’t have turn-ups on their trousers.  And I showed the girls how they wouldn’t have been allowed to have so many pleats on ther uniforms that they were wearing either. They were just at the age when clothes really start to matter, so they were really interested…

They didn’t know anything about food rationing so I told them about how it was still in force when my older sister was a baby so that there was just one egg for the family for the week, and how it was a disaster when as a baby she threw a shoe out of her pram unobserved and my father tramped the streets afterwards looking for it, but never found it.   I suppose all this is so long ago for school kids now, that it’s ancient history!

From there we went upstairs to the Heroes exhibition, which profiled the numerous VCs from Britain’s wars, and then we went to the Holocaust Exhibition.  It was very sobering, especially seeing the scale model of Auschwitz which showed the dreadful process in a ghastly white snowy landscape.  On the lower floors there was an exhibit about Britain’s secret operations, from the Enigma codebreaker to MI5 and MI6, and there was also a vivid exhibition about one family’s experience of WW2.

All in all, it was much better than I had expected: I thought there would be more about weapons and equipment, but it mainly focussed on people and the impact of war.  I probably would never have gone to this museum if not for the Fashion on the Ration exhibition, but I’m really glad we went.

IMG_1743We had an indifferent lunch at a nearby pub called The Three Stags – which had the most interesting wallpaper I’ve ever seen!  Until I looked properly I thought it was just another set of nostalgic images that you see everywhere, showcasing British country life.  But no.  On closer inspection, the images turned out to be social commentary.  On the top RHS you may be able to see the man in a suit striding past with his mobile phone  – oblivious to the homeless person sitting on the park bench.  And below that on the LHS, you can see a man being held up by a robber.

Tomorrow we’ve off to Amsterdam,  so we bid farewell to the lovely people at the Montague who have looked after us so well.  It will be our first trip to the Netherlands so we are really looking forward to it:)

 

Posted in Museums, UK 2015 | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

Carnavalet Museum, Paris

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 7, 2012

We had a lovely lunch at the Royal Turenne Bistro (where the food was scrumptious and the waiters were friendly and helpful (and kind to me about my awful French) and then made our way to a most enjoyable afternoon at the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

This museum traces the history of the city from its beginnings to the present day and it is full of fascinating exhibits.  If you watch the slideshow you can see

  • fragments of a massive statue of Louis XIV which was pulled down during the revolution, locks of hair from the murdered royal family, the dauphin’s toys and a model of the guillotine
  • Voltaire’s chair, and a bust of him too
  • Proust’s bedroom where he did much of his writing,
  • gorgeous miniatures and lovely porcelain used to advertise wares in the days when people were illiterate (and a modern one of Lanvin’s boutique)
  • Fouquet’s glorious art nouveau cafe, and
  • memorabilia from the French Revolution.

All of this is in two lovely buildings with more than 100 rooms decorated in style from the 17th to the 20th century.  There are also two formal gardens and a kitchen garden, a pleasant place to sit and rest weary feet.

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Posted in Dining out, LitLovers pilgrimage, Museums, Paris 2012 | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »