Tag Archives: trip to paris

Paris Icons

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”       Ernest Hemingway – ‘A Moveable Feast’                                                                        

Elsewhere I’ve posted ‘Paris – Ville Lumière‘ and the interest it garnered has resulted in a pointed prod to produce another photographic essay that concentrates on iconic images of that splendid city. If you have good walking shoes, the time and the stamina, Paris offers a plethora of grand architectural and historic buildings, around almost every corner a charming, oft unexpected site, whether a flowered garden, a statue and fountain or a mouth-watering food stall in a neighborhood street ‘marché’ that caters to the fastidious eating habits of Parisians.  I will not offend by identifying the obvious, such as the Tour Eiffel or Notre Dame, however, now and then I’ll add a dash of spices, tidbits of interesting information perhaps useful to make your future foray to ‘La ville lumière‘ more  pleasurable.  Bon voyage!

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.

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Astride ‘La Butte Montmartre’, fabled domain of the artistic and bohemian, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur keeps a watchful eye over its people.

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Allow me to offer a useful bit of advice to the future visitor.  The scenic photos of the Sacré Coeur  above are taken from the rooftop patio at the shopping mecca known collectively as Printemps and Les Gallery Lafayette.  There’s no entry fee and it offers the best photographic vista, 360 degree around, of what’s interesting to be seen in Paris, as in the photos.  Furthermore any woman is delighted by the eclectic and fine quality shopping and a man can easily find that gift he needs bring back home.  A winning combo by any standard.
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The Centre Pompidou (center) the foremost tourist magnet in all of Paris; when you consider what it comes ahead, Notre Dame and the Tour Eiffel, just to name two, it’s quite a compliment to its successful incorporation of several cultural venues.  The new city library and the largest museum of modern art in Europe are but two of the attractions in this ‘high-tech’  design that ‘turned modern architecture on its head’.
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Place Georges Pompidou’ in front of the museum is particularly noted for eclectic and often novel entertainment, mimes, jugglers, bands, street performers; offered for a small donation, freely given I might add, relaxed crowds gawk and applaud on any given day.
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In colorful Mongolian garb a trio set up in front of Le Centre Pompidou to offer authentic ‘throat’ singing accompanied by fine musicianship on traditional instruments.  If you’ve not heard this complex and unique form of singing go to YouTube and type in ‘Mongolian throat singing’.  You’ll find several choices – amazing control.
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This clever fellow created humongous soap balloons – imagine back to the time when you’d have given up all your precious toys for that kind of magical power. Check out the rapt expressions on the children, and the not so young.
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For a brief moment the young lady fancies her chances of capturing a bit of bubble magic – not quite as it soon burst.  During the twinkling of an eye though she was a child again and that’s  priceless.
 
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Paris is a shopper’s delight – Dior luxury goods and of course world renowned brand names in fashion.
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On the Champs Elysées, luxurious co-exists now with the mundane, such as Burger King and MacDonald’s.  No photos of those in my camera, needless to point out.
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The old elegance with the extra cool new design in automobiles.  
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Paris offers the best and most varied  entertainment one can imagine.  At almost every street corner or ‘place‘ you’ll discover  talented artists plying their trade in return for a voluntary donation on your part.  Below, this woman plays a manual organ, hand-cranked with vigor while singing with verve traditional songs associated with the incomparable Edit Piaf.
The lissome accordionist is found on the Place du Tertre a stone’s throw from the Sacré Coeur; if you want to hear a fine rendition of the  theme from ‘Emilie’ and other golden oldies, check her out.  Talented buskers at every corner and well worth lingering to give a listen and maybe drop a coin.
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A jazz band up for the week-end from the south of France served up an upbeat and fun performance in front, appropriately enough, of the Académie Nationale de Musique.
Very professional, super hip – a cool jazz band and fine vocalist entertain the lucky passers-by, me included. 
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City Hall and the ubiquitous carousel, a children’s delight seen everywhere in France.
L’Arc de Triomphe du  Carrousel’ looking from the nearby Louvre up the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe at the top, both built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories.   The obelisk (also due to Napoleon’s military excursion to Egypt) is visible about half-way.  A splendid stroll by any standard that can be named, anywhere.
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From atop  the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ a comely visitor captures a souvenir photo looking down Les Champs Elysées; at the top end of the photo, the Louvres museum.  The Eiffel Tower shows up from almost any angle anywhere within the city.
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Photo editing magic! What is she pointing her camera at?
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The Champs-Elysées and the slightly insane traffic below.  The one thing that a driver must never do is stop for whatever reason.  I’ve even witnessed minor bumper to bumper hits but I’ve never seen even a driver  stop to check for damage – it’s part of the game.
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The crazy traffic below, drivers navigating their way to one of the 12 avenues that make up the spokes of the Etoile.  My first time I was forced to go around twice before I mustered the courage to just head for my exit and miraculously managed to do so without a scratch.  Hence, every time I’m in Paris whether I need to or not I force myeelf to drive around just to get my driving brain adapted to the helter-skelter traffic, and okay, I now consider it fun especially if I have a neophyte along for the ride so I can show off my ‘cool’.
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Note no lanes or any kind of traffic pattern indication – you just make up your own driving path as you go.  Democracy or is it anarchy?  Somehow it works.  Oh, by the way this was in mid-morning in what is considered light traffic. 
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From the top of the Arc de Triumphe – the ever present Tour Effeil and below a panoramic view of Paris.
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The Louvre and it’s iconic pyramid entrance, once an object of controversy now a proud symbol of architectural imagination melded with practicality.
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From the concourse outside a peek at ancient sculptures cleverly displayed – great if you’re in a hurry, and best of all no entrance ticket need be purchased.  
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This young couple in the ‘Jardin des Tuileries’ somehow couldn’t find enough free room on a bench; they opted to share the same space, vertically.  Nice!
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Historic, splendid, iconic Notre Dame Cathedral.   I believe it’s impossible to take a poor photo from any angle.
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Inside Notre Dame, glorious glass rose, the main transept and splendid pipe organ sights that never cease to reward my visits, no matter how often over the years. 
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One of the famed gargoyles keeping a close watch on the City of Lights!
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La Conciergerie, a historic building that includes the remnants of the oldest royal palace in Paris, dating to the beginning of the 14th Century.  Later displaced in favour of  the Louvre as the royal residence, it’s located on the historic and charming Ile de la Cité, the island in the middle of the River Seine just up from Notre Dame.  Today it houses the Prefecture de Paris police and various legal offices and trial courts.
On the Pont Neuf, a glittering bridge spanning the Seine leading to the Left Bank and in the background the Invalides, a fine military museum displaying memorabilia of past wars and especially Napoleon’s impressive tomb.
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When I checked out this photo the results were rather surprising – first of all I couldn’t quite fathom other than the Obelisk in the Place de La Concorde what were the other two buildings.  ‘Mon grand ami‘ set me straight; the second building with the columns was the ‘Palais de Bourbon’ where the French Assembly meet and in the background the Invalides.  What had thrown me was the fact the Seine River flows just in front of the Palais but it’s not visible and I wouldn’t have guessed except he lives permanently in Paris.  Lucky fellow!
In front of the imposing Pantheon where the ‘great and noble’ of France are honored in final homage.  Of great interest it’s where Foulcault set his famous instrument, a pendulum that proved the existence of the earth’s rotation – check it out it’s still doing its thing without a hick-cup.  It’s impressive and for me at least, a hint to understanding our home planet’s incredibly precise ride though the cosmos.
The Palais du Luxembourg is the seat of the French Senate.  However, it is best know for  a 25-hectare formal garden populated by statues, ‘parterres’ of green lawns and stately treed aisles for leisure strolls.  There are large basins of water where children (of all ages) sail model sailboats; there’s also an apple and pear orchard and an excellent ‘théatre des marionettes’.  For those with a nostalgic bent (mea culpa) I recommend finding a Joe Dassin rendition of a splendid “Le Jardin du Luxembourg‘ and if you’re like me listen and allow yourself a heartfelt sigh.  He was the much loved troubadour of an entire generation of the young and the young at heart.  RIP Joe.
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Methinks I’ll now listen to Joe reminding me of a time when life was simpler and notions of friendship and love weren’t looked upon as the domain of romantic, emotional fools.   That’s it for now mes amis.  Next time I’ll take you along to lovely Nancy and regal Reims.   A bientôt

Strasbourg

MAGNIFICENT, SPLENDID, UNIQUE, UNFORGETTABLE  STRASBOURG!

Strasbourg! One of my very favourite destinations any time in Europe.   Magnificent, prosperous Strasbourg, historically craved over  is located  at the far eastern reaches of France with Germany sitting across the mighty Rhine strategically astride a pathway for invading armies since recorded time.  The Strabourgois are hard-working, clever and adaptable to the vagaries of historic situations including decades under German rule.  In fact, the local dialect is very much a blend of German and is still often spoken by the older generation among themselves.  Strasbourg’s solid infrastructure and strategic location, a hub of transportation to and from the eastern countries of Europe,  has made it a logical choice to become the future capital of a united Europe, and it is already the seat of many international pan-European organizations.  Strasbourg’s future is as rosy as the superb stained glass rose (above) gracing their much beloved cathedral.

Construction on Our Lady of Strasbourg started in 1176 and continued for the next three centuries. The  magnificent Gothic cathedral boasts of the tallest spire in all of Europe,  in fact from 1647 to 1874 it was the tallest man-made structure in the world.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

The cathedral described by Victor Hugo as “A gigantic and delicate marvel” is at the core of the pride of the Alsacian people.  Twin towers were planned but unfortunately the second spire was never started.  In moments of idle dreaming I have wondered why couldn’t it be constructed now? There are more than enough billionaires on this planet with more than enough loose change to gather together a ‘dream team’ of historians, architects, stone masons, artisans, sculptors, creators of stained glass windows and all of the educated ‘hands’ required to create a splendid monument to glorify the past and bring hope to the present.  I wonder why there isn’t a single one out there with the imagination to donate such a gift to the world? Forlorn hope, in a world where making and piling up  money is single-mindedly pursued such an inspired, noble mind doesn’t draw breath.  A sublime imagination or a philanthropic love of culture is a non-starter.  Quel domage – too bad!

Just imagine the second tower to celebrate the new millenia (a decade or so already down the road but still early in relative terms) when mankind starts to finally get it!  What’s ‘it’ you may rightfully wonder – ‘it’ in this case is respect of what’s best in mankind’s cultural and artistic creativity accompanied by human nobility of spirit.

A medieval building, an iconic landmark in great repair, a stone’s throw from the cathedral, also a good eatery where to sample the regional ‘choucroute garni’.  Not making a point of sitting down to a copious plate of this traditional sauerkraut and pork sausages and/or ribs, washed down with excellent Alsatian beer is unthinkable.  

When I was a child I’d been told about the ‘cigogne‘ (stork) that ferried new-born babies to their new homes; I’d even seen lots of illustrations so it had to be true, right? Imagine my excitement the first time I saw a couple of real honest to goodness ‘cigognes’ in a lush meadow spearing frogs for breakfast (no bad jokes, please) just a few kilometres from Strasbourg.  I spotted them from the corner of my eye and by the time I was able to make a u-turn a couple kliks down the road to take photos much to my chagrin they’d flown off.  Welcomed as harbingers of good fortune, the magnificent bird had traditionally nested atop chimneys throughout Alsace but they’d almost disappeared until dedicated hard work and loving care rescued them from the edge of extinction.  From a choice perch on the cathedral, here for centuries one is seen  dispensing good luck to  its citizenry.

It’s easy to get around Strasbourg as it’s an eminently walkable city but if you’re feeling lazy a modern transportation system will whisk you to destination.  Notice the bicycle paths along side the tram tracks.

Arriving in Strasbourg I was following the signs indicating the cathedral, thus the old town and as usual I had no idea where to spend the night.  Judging I was getting close I grabbed the first available parking spot and as luck would have it, the car stayed put for the next three days.  Better still a few steps away I notice a hotel and before you know it I’d also found fine lodgings at a reasonable price, a good view from the window and within walking distance of ‘La Petite France’ and the cathedral.  I’ll admit to almost never (except when traveling for working purposes) book accommodations ahead of time when I’m on the road.  Why is that? I trust on my good star to lead me to a great place within my budget and with some special amenity or perhaps great location to offer.  On occasion I’ve had to work hard to find just what would smile at me, but I have no problem checking out four, five or even more hotels before making a decision.  I also have no embarrassment about returning to one I passed on earlier.  I deem finding the right place is worth almost any effort, furthermore if I really am happy I can stay longer and that’s a bonus.  Okay, I’ll tell you there have been times when I couldn’t find anything at any price because there was a convention going on or some popular event and I’ve even had to move on to another town, but that’s not happened too often and in fact sometimes worked out even better by exploring an unplanned destination.

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This method of finding a bed to lay your head on is not recommended for those who like to travel on a fixed schedule and agenda but that’s not for me as I have at times (often) found myself not only in a different town but also in a different country.  Oh, it’s not a big deal if you’re free and have the fanciful notion of going where the wind (figuratively) blows you and Europe is the place to do such for the distances are rather smallish if you come from Canada.  One particular time (I was younger and I love driving) I left San Marino early when the sun was peering over the horizon, drove through northern Italy, across a slice of Switzerland, through a bit of Germany, dashed through northwest France, sped across Luxembourg and found myself watching a great game of football (soccer) at my hotel’s lobby with friendly companions in Knokke in Belgium.  Let’s see that’s seven countries in one day, not bad!

The view from my bedroom, notice the cathedral’s spire about a pleasant 15 minute’s walk with interesting buildings and sights on the way.

A rather banal pic but notice the bidet, a fixture found in any half-decent hotel in Europe.  Have North America’s hoteliers heard of its convenient hygienic properties? I was introduced to the ‘bidet’ in an hilarious episode in Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’.  Already living in Canada I had to wait for my first trip to France to actually discover it in a modest one star hotel in Paris.  I was thrilled and sat there laughing my head off remembering the discomfiture of the man who mistook it for a proper toilet and found out it simply wouldn’t flush as he’d expected.  The entire novel is worth reading for that alone although it was the book that made me realize an extensive vocabulary as well as being an indispensable communication tool is a thing of beauty.

Another view from the hotel room – lucky me.

At night it was so beautifully illuminated as most architecturally important and striking buildings are throughout Europe.

To the right of my wide open window the view was also splendidly illuminated – a dream land that charmed my eyes while awaiting slumber after a long, happy day.

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One of the best activities a visitor can indulge in is to savour a fine Alsatian beer in one of the many outdoor cafes in  ‘La Petite France’, a beautiful slice of historic Strasbourg.  In the evening there are dozens of fine restaurants from which to choose, wisely I opted for one that featured sauerkraut, roast potatoes and smoked sausages nicely eased  down with a stein (maybe two) of  cold local blonde beer.

Strasbourg’s historic city centre, the ‘Grande Isle’ was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre. Strasbourg is fused into the Franco-German culture and although violently disputed throughout history, has been a bridge of unity between France and Germany for centuries, especially through the ‘Université de Strasbourg‘ presently the largest in France, and the peaceful coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture.

A boatman speeds home after a day ferrying tourists around the delightful waterways that crisscross the city.  It was time for me to reluctantly leave behind enchanting Strasbourg.  Until we meet again, aurevoir!