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Welcome to our November 2008 Special Edition Newsletter!

This newsletter is especially for you. We wanted to share all the things we saw and learned on our European trip. Give us a call or send an email if you have any comments or questions.

Also, in this special edition we have included a small catalog of items for your browsing pleasure. Enjoy!

If you missed any of our previous newsletters or are having trouble viewing this page correctly, you can find a link to it on our website at our newsletter archives.

Please feel free to visit our website FindersFayre.com where you will find an array of furniture, accessories, and information about our interior design services. Read on! and email any questions, comments, or suggestions to Newsletter@findersfayre.com. Thanks again!

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Châteaux, Museums, and Gardens

Dexter S. Augier by Dexter S. Augier

We have just returned from England & France, and it was the best trip in the 30 years we’ve been traveling.  It was so good that I thought you might enjoy knowing what we did.  So many friends ask where we stay and where we eat, that I’ll include those that we think are worthy of mention.  We like our comforts, and enjoy eating well, but we don’t like feeling like we’re buying the place!

Most of our clients and friends enjoy travel, and I think it’s because it exposes us to the art, architecture, and culture that has shaped history and influenced our tastes.

So, grab your suitcase, …aaaaallllll aboard!

There were four of us traveling, Mr. Steinmeyer, myself, and our very close friends, Malcolm and Robin. We flew out of Houston on the Monday afternoon following the not-so-lovely experience of Hurricane Ike.  An uninvited guest whom we hope never comes back, nor any of his friends.  The airport was still closed after the storm, and when we left Beaumont, we weren’t even sure we would be flying out.  Most of this part of the country was still without electricity.  The airport was like a ghost town, but was struggling back to its feet, and like us, was determined to get back to normal.   We arrived early the next day at London’s Gatwick airport, and picked up the car we had rented.  I hear some of those gasps, but driving on the ‘wrong side of the street’ is not nearly the terror it seems.  You just jump right in, and your brain sort of re-boots itself!  We drove up to London, skirting its east side, and headed up to Waddesdon Manor.

Malcolm brought along one of those portable GPS navigation units called a Garmin, which he had updated with all the maps for England and France.  That little gadget was a wonder!  Malcolm and “Garmina” navigated, and I drove.  The few times we, uh, ‘strayed’, Garmina quickly recalculated and set us right.

Waddesdon Manor Waddesdon Manor - Landscape Waddesdon Manor - Aviary

Waddesdon Manor is a country house in the village of Waddesdon, in Buckinghamshire, England, just a few miles to the east of Oxford.  The house was built in the style of a French château in the late 19th century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. The Baron, a member of the Rothschild banking dynasty, chose Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, a French architect, also known for his design and restoration work on the Château de Courrance, and Vaux le Vicomte (more on both to follow).  Waddesdon is now open to the public, and is filled with the Baron’s  extensive collections of French 18th-century tapestries, boiseries, furniture and ceramics, English and Dutch paintings and Renaissance works of art.

The extensive landscaping and gardens are enhanced with antique statuary, pavilions and a fantastic aviary.  In the film “The Queen” many of the garden shots were done at Waddesdon. 

The Estate originally built, and still owns many of the buildings and homes in the village.  Each of these bears in some fashion the emblem of five arrows, pointing upward and tied with a ribbon.  Each of the arrows represents one of the five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild dynasty, who were sent by their father to establish banking houses in the five financial capitals of Europe - Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, Naples and London.  

Five Arrows - Front View Five Arrows - Rear ViewOne of these houses, built in 1887, was originally used to accommodate the architects, craftsmen and artisans working on the Manor itself.  It’s now The Five Arrows Hotel, and staying there was a pleasure all its own.  The rooms, grounds, staff and restaurant….yes, even the restaurant!...were outstanding. 

Reluctantly we left the charms of the countryside, and motored our way down to central London.  Our hotel, The Cavendish was located just one block off Piccadilly, behind the fantastic and famous, Fortum’s and Mason’s department store, and the Ritz Hotel.  The Cavendish is a sleek modern hotel, also with an outstanding restaurant, situated in the perfect location for enjoying the delights of London. 

While in London

  • we went to the Victoria & Albert museum,
  • visited an exhibition at the Royal Academy,
  • explored the intriguing museum of Sir John Soane,
  • went to see Jersey Boys (great!) and
  • tried to peruse the Portobello Road antiques market.   We can remember when Portobello road was an antique dealers paradise, now the term ‘tourist trap’ comes to mind.  There really are some good antiques there, but the stifling crowds are drawn by the junk dealers on the street hawking stuff you might catch something from!

Victoria and Albert MuseumVictoria and Albert Museum - Casts Rooms Victoria and Albert Museum - Sculpture Sample The Royal Academy

Originally we had planned a Eurostar day trip to Paris for one of our London days, but a fire in the channel tunnel has caused a severe slow down of ‘chunnel’ traffic, and they asked us not to travel. 

On Sunday, we had a nice brunch at our hotel, and departed for Victoria Station, where we boarded the Venice Simplon Orient Express for our trip down to Paris. 

This was our 9th trip on the Orient Express since its re-inauguration in 1982, and the train manager greeted us with fresh flowers and champagne (our room steward is rather glad that we don’t drink, as we thought he should take it home to enjoy with his wife!) 

Venice Simplon Orient Express Venice Simplon Orient Express Venice Simplon Orient Express Venice Simplon Orient Express

All the carriages on this historic train are the originals, built in Europe in the 20’s & 30’s, and have been accurately restored to their original condition.  It’s not a modern train; rather, it’s like going back to 1920 and becoming part of the past.  Remember Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”? well, the five cars used in that film are still part of the train we took! I’m sure I saw Hercule Poirot in the next carriage!

After an elegant English lunch, and a superb French dinner, the train deposits us at the Gare de L'Est in Paris…it’s 10 o’clock at night, raining, and there are no taxis….It was as if someone were saying ‘welcome back to the real world’.

Finally, a stubborn (and sullen) taxi driver deposits us at the Hotel des Marroniers in the 6th arrondisement, just a block from the Place St. Germaine.  We always stay in this area, also known as the Latin Quarter, because to us this is the real Paris, especially at night when the cafés and streets come alive.  You can sit or walk for hours, and listen as Paris casts its spell.

The Hotel des Marroniers The Hotel des Marroniers which, by the way, means Hotel of the Chestnut trees, was originally part of a 17th century abbey.  It is perfectly located, is small, and the staff is very helpful.  There is a nice breakfast on the terrace among its namesake trees.  It’s not the Ritz, but remember this is Paris, and we were only one block from the famous Café Deux Magots where Hemmingway, Picasso, Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir spent so much time.  Easy walking to Luxemburg Gardens or the Seine, a little further, but still walkable to Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Musée d’Orsay.

Musée d’Orsay

We decided to revisit the Musée d’Orsay, which originally was a train station, and is now the museum of 19th century Paris.  You want to see Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, and their contemporaries?  This is the place.  Very worth while is a snack in the restaurant on the second floor.  Original to the train station, and completely restored, it’s like eating in a lavish original rococo room, complete with boiserie, gilding, paintings, and chandeliers. 

Invilides, Church of the Dome Invilides, Church of the Dome
Invilides, Church of the Dome Invilides, Church of the Dome

Another re-visit was to Napoleon’s tomb at the Invilides, Louis XIV’s hospital for disabled military personnel.  At the rear of the military museum sits the Church of the Dome, which was remodeled to house the huge porphyry sarcophagi holding Napoleon’s caskets (six in all---they didn’t want any looters!)  It’s quite a sight, and you leave with a sense of what the French still think of ‘Boney’.  

One night in Paris we decided to take Robin and Malcolm to a restaurant that we first visited over 25 years ago, Restaurant Lasserre.  It was exactly the same as we remembered…the dining room was the definition of elegance…the service was beyond what you can imagine…and the food was marvelous.   Lasserre has a moveable roof….when the temperature or air quality needs adjusting, the roof parts, quietly opening to reveal a hanging garden and fresh air.  The only thing we failed to remember was that you pay for every ounce of what you get…no bargains, but wow!

The Carnavalet museum The Carnavalet museum
The Carnavalet museum The Carnavalet museum

The Carnavalet museum houses the history of the City of Paris in a 16th century palace,  We had never been to this museum, and are so thankful to Malcolm & Robin for urging us to see it.  We enjoyed seeing rooms as they would have been furnished and arranged in the 18-19th centuries. One of the rooms had a small pastel study by Watteau that was one of the nicest things I saw.

That night we dined at another train station…really!  The Gare de Lyon was the station where trains left Paris for the Riviera coast, or as the French call it, le cote d’azure (blue coast).  The specific train that would have carried you to that beautiful area was painted blue…hence The Blue Train, and so the name of this restaurant, located on the second floor, and original to the station, dating back to the 1900 Exposition…Restaurant Le Train Bleu http://www.le-train-bleu.com/uk/navigation.htm Belle époque to the last detail, and dripping with 100 years of memories.  It’s a Paris experience that most American travelers never discover, and I’m glad we did!

On Wednesday morning we gathered ourselves together and took a taxi to yet another railway station to pick up our rental car, a Peugeot mini van.  With absolutely no guidance, remember, this is Paris, they turned me loose into downtown Paris traffic.  Up to this point in life, there were only two places I refused to drive, Paris and Naples.  OK, I survived Paris, with Malcolm’s help, but still no way am I driving In Naples!

Here we are, driving in the middle of five lanes of traffic along the road that borders the Seine….right in front of the Institute of Paris, and I stall the car.  It’s a standard shift, and, well, it's been a long time.  Anyway, you would think all you gotta do is push the clutch and start it back up.  Didn’t work.  Finally, (try to image all the horns!) I took the ‘smart’ key out of the ignition, put it back in, and presto!  Next, we cross the Pont Alexander III, and make a left on the Champs Élysée, heading straight for the Arch of Triumph, and the twelve roads that terminate at its center.  Somehow we make it, and proceed east to the little suburb of Rueil-Malmaison and the house that Josephine built for her husband Napoleon…Château de Malmaison.

Napoleon, often known only as the military dictator who captured the heart of France, also captured the heart of Josephine with words like
"I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night’s intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses."
Napoleon even changed her first name, which, until meeting him was Rose.  When you think about it, “Empress Rose” doesn’t quite have the same imperial ring to it…

The house is furnished with most of the original furniture, paintings, and interior decorations that Josephine put in place.  She was infamous for her spending, but wow, the treasures she brought together, and the paintings she commissioned!  The most famous painting, by Jacques-Louis David of Napoleon on a rearing horse, crossing the Alps, still hangs in Malmaison.

Malmaison Malmaison Malmaison Malmaison Malmaison

The house is not what we would call ‘small’, but it is small enough to be livable.  It’s nice to see châteaux of this scale, because there are so many features that can be adapted for our own lifestyles.

Following our schedule we left Napoleon & Josephine, and drove south, (and back to the 17th century) to find our next ‘hotel’…the surprising highlight of our trip…the Château de Bourron, in the village of Bourron-Marlotte.

Located just 10 minutes from Fountainebleau, the Château de Bourron is perfectly located for exploring some of France’s best available examples from the apex of French architecture. 

Château de Bourron
Château de Bourron
Château de Bourron
Château de Bourron
Château de Bourron
Château de Bourron

First, let me tell you a little about the château.  The stone and brick structure we see today was built in the 17th century, and sits on 100 acres of land.  The village grew up around the château, providing the skills and labor necessary for running such an estate.  The château changed hands over the years, and eventually became the property of the present owners’ ancestors.  The Count and Countess de Cordon,  Guy and Estrella, are young, in their 30’s, and have two lovely, and very French, children.  They’re restoring their inheritance, (called their patrimoine in France) and are using its beauty to make it pay for itself.  So far, they have created four hotel rooms to accommodate guests.  Each one is different, and carries a theme relative to the history of the house.  When we were shown into our room, the first sensation I had was of a gentle peace. Located on the 3rd floor, our room, called the Montgolfier, is decorated with toile fabric, real antiques, and has dormer windows opening to the front court and side yard.  I will never forget those early mornings when I would open the French windows to smell the fresh forest air and watch the mists lift from the moat.  It was what you imagine staying in a château should be like.  

The restaurant Les Prémices, under the direction of the Chef, Monsieur Dominique Maës, is just a short walk from the front door, and is located in the old stables.

I can’t say enough good things about this château, and the wonderful couple who own it.  If you can ever make this happen for yourselves you’ll never regret it!  Let me know if I can help!

The next day after breakfast, we took a leisurely drive to the Château of Fountainebleau.  (Not ‘blue fountains’ as you might think, but ‘beautiful fountains’)

This was our first visit here, and though I knew somewhat about the history and architecture of the building, I had no idea of the treasure trove inside.  The palace alone is almost too big to see in one day…in fact, we didn’t even try.  We visited the main section, and the fountain courtyard in the central rear, but there were acres we didn’t even see from a distance!  The rooms are filled with furniture, paintings, porcelains, bronzes, marble sculptures, and beautiful wall and window decorations.  Fontainebleau houses the ONLY original French throne room still in existence. 

Fontainebleau Fontainebleau Fontainebleau Fontainebleau Fontainebleau Fontainebleau

After a nice lunch in the old downtown area, followed by a world class raspberry tarte, we took a leisurely drive through part of the famous Fontainebleau Forest, and visited the small town of Barbizon.  An entire school of art is named after this town, and we wanted to see why!  The trees and atmosphere they create must be the answer.  It’s a pretty little village, only about 1500 people, but anything further was lost on me.

However, we also drove over to a medieval town, Moret-sur-Loing, made famous by impressionist painters Monet, Renoir, and Sisley.  A drive through the town center, and down by the river, was enough to see that this would be a place worth spending the afternoon….if for nothing else but to watch the light change in the air.  I know, sounds ‘artsy’ but there is something there….

Château de Vaux le  Vicomte The next day we set out for the town of Melun, and the famous Château de Vaux le Vicomte.  Touted as the most important château in all of France. 

Château de Vaux le  Vicomte

Only about a 20 minute drive from ‘our’ château, and no longer owned by any descendants of the unfortunate man who built it, Nicolas Fouquet,  “Vaux was the tragic setting for the downfall of Fouquet, a faithful minister who paid the price of life imprisonment, because of an embezzlement he did not commit, because of the jealousy of others and also because he went a little too far in bestowing lavish hospitality.”  That’s a quote from their webpage.  Fouquet was Louis XIVs minister of finance, and of course he had his enemies.  After a big party for Louis in 1661, one of them convinced the King that Nick and been dipping.  Fouquet went to jail (for the rest of his life) and the King took the house and everything in it.  He even took the interior designer, the architect, and the landscape designer, and made them go to work on Versailles.  What a spoiled sport!

Château de Vaux le  Vicomte

Anyway, the house was bought in the late 19th century at public auction, and is still owned by that family’s descendant.  Remember at the first of our trip, the visit to Waddesdon Manor in England?  Well, turns out that the architect that built Waddesdon was also hired to put Vaux back in its original condition.  I have to admit not knowing this at the time, but that makes it even more of an interesting coincidence!

Château de Vaux le  Vicomte

In order to lay out the front view for Vaux, Fouquet had to purchase and move three villages.  The vista is awesome, and if Malcolm hadn’t rented a golf cart, we would never have been up to the walk.  The house itself is also quite large….to give you an idea, there are 4 acres of slate roof, which by the way is about half way through being replaced.  We in fact contributed to the re-roofing project by purchasing one of the old slates…don’t know yet what we’ll do with it, but its nice to feel even a tiny connection to such an important place! 

Château de Vaux le  Vicomte

Have you ever heard of Eva Longoria?  Sorry, but I hadn’t.  Anyway, she and a ball player rented Vaux for their wedding at a price tag of $3 million US dollars…they’re still talking about it over there!

We rose the next morning to our last full day in France, tomorrow we fly back home.  After another pleasant breakfast with our hosts, we set off for Paris by way of yet another château…the Château de Courrance located near the town of Milly la Forêt, about 20 minutes from our château, and about one hour from Paris.

We arrived before the château opened, so we drove around some of the neighboring villages and happened upon the most delightful place for lunch!  La Truffière restaurant in the town of Milly la Forêt.  This place is a treasure…well worth the visit!

Château de Courrance Château de Courrance
Château de Courrance Château de Courrance

The Château is still privately owned, and is only opened from 2-4pm on the weekends, still, the house and gardens are a delight, and worth a little extra effort to visit.  The family still lives there, and you definitely feel like a guest.  The house visit is closely controlled, but the wonderful gardens are wide open for your enjoyment.  It’s really great that the public gets to see it at all!  If you enjoy Japanese gardens, theirs is the best I have ever seen…just viewing it from the side brings a calmness to your day.

This house is another restoration project by the architect of Waddesdon Manor, Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur.  He did this house before he did the restoration on Vaux le Vicomte.

 

 

I think the secrets to having a memorable trip are

  1. Don’t try to do too much
  2. Plan what you want to do or see
  3. Learn a little about each place before you go
  4. Leave ample time for shopping!!!!

You’ll find that your memories will be clearer, and mean a whole lot more…and shopping lets you bring tangible memories back home!

Well folks, the train is pulling into the station, I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip, and let me know if you would like any further details or contact information!         Dexter

If you would like to see more pictures from the trip click here.


Return of the fallen Madonna

Raphael's restored work welcomed back to Florence
By Peter Popham      29 October 2008

One of the most touching masterpieces of the Renaissance will be welcomed back to Florence's Uffizi Gallery "like a prodigal daughter" after a restoration lasting 10 years.

The Madonna of the Goldfinch, painted by Raphael in 1506, shows Mary with John the Baptist and Jesus as children at her feet, and John offering Jesus a goldfinch which the latter strokes. The goldfinch symbolises Christ's crucifixion because it is a bird that feeds among thorns. One legend has it that a goldfinch plucked out a thorn that was digging painfully into Christ's brow as he was on his way to be crucified.

The painting, 42in by 30in, was executed when Raphael was 23. It was a wedding gift for Lorenzo Nasi, a wool merchant from Florence. The painting's problems began in 1547 when Nasi's house collapsed, smashing the picture into 17 pieces. It was put together using nails and painted over by a contemporary of Raphael, Ridolfo di Ghirlandaio, to hide the joins.

It found its way into the possession of the Medicis, the ruling family of Florence during the Renaissance, and the original radiant beauty of the painting was further obscured by successive attempts to cover up the damage.

So when Opificio delle Pietre Dure, one of Italy's state-run picture restoration laboratories, was approached about the possibility of restoring the picture to its original splendour, it approached it with great diffidence. "This patient gave us the most shivers and the most sleepless nights," Marco Ciatti, head of the paintings department of the lab, told Reuters. "We spent two whole years studying it before deciding whether to go ahead, because with the damage it had suffered in the past – which was clearly visible in the X-rays – a restoration attempt could go wrong."

In the end they decided to proceed, and the restorer who pulled the short straw was Patrizia Riitano. The painting has been her life for years. "I am just a technician but I probably know this painting almost better than Raphael," she said. "He looked at it of course, but all these years I have been looking at it through a microscope." She headed a team of 50 including wood specialists and photography technicians.

The restoration team decided that the larger nails holding the picture together should stay, as removing them risked doing more harm. The grime obscuring the picture's beautifully balanced golds, reds and blues has been meticulously stripped away.

Next month, Madonna del cardellino, as it is known in Italian, is the centrepiece of a show on the restoration at Florence's Palazzo Medici, before returning to the Uffizi. Antonio Natali, of the Uffizi, said: "We will celebrate it like the return of our prodigal daughter."



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