Worth Raising A Glass, I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid

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The Louvre is the world’s largest museum.  It is housed in an old fortress that became a palace and converted to a museum.  Buildings connect in a U-shape with a courtyard, Cour Napoleon, in the center.

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As the number of visitors grew, it became clear that the Louvre needed renovations to accommodate all the visitors.  In 1983, the Louvre developed and President François Mitterrand supported a renovation plan known as the Grand Louvre.  Among other things, it called for a new design for the main entrance that would be climate controlled, and provide space for a ticket office, security checkpoint, visitors center (for things like audio guides, toilets, sitting areas, information centers, cafes and shops).

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When Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei‘s modern glass pyramid structure in the courtyard was unveiled, most critics gave negative reviews.  They deemed it an unwelcome intrusion of modernism into  traditional architecture.  Still, it provided 650,000 additional square feet of much-needed support spaces for the Louvre.

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Inaugurated in 1988 and opened in 1993, his design of The Louvre pyramid, met the need and then some.   It appears strikingly modern and sophisticated against the baroque façade.  It guides  visitors’ movements between the three immense wings (Richelieu, the Sully, and the Denon) of the museum.  As a Louvre visitor, I find this as  genius as any part of the design.  The Louvre is immense and it is easy to get lost.  By following the signs to the exit, you can get to a guide who will point you in the right direction for your adventure in the next wing.  Plus, the glass provides wonderful light to the underground lobby.

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The complex inter-linked steel structure sheathed in clear, reflective glass.  This transparency allows an unobstructed view through it permitting vision across the pyramid to the palace on the opposite side. This allows it to float lightly in the space.

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While its style differs drastically from the original palace buildings, its transparency and simplicity allows it to sit among them without taking anything away from them.  It just becomes another interesting focal point.

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It didn’t take long for Pyramid to become integral part of Paris’ center and another one of its iconic buildings (Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Les Invalides, Sacre Couer).  In the New York Times,  Paul Goldberg wrote: “…the design provoked international controversy and accusations that an American architect was destroying the very heart of Paris…the news from Paris is that the Louvre is still there, although it is now a dramatically different museum. The pyramid does not so much alter the Louvre as hover gently beside it, coexisting as if it came from another dimension.”

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The movie ‘Da Vinci Code‘, which had scenes set inside the Louvre included several minutes of dramatic video shots of the Pyramid. It’s also appeared in The Dreamers,  Prêt-à-PorterThe Rape of Europa and Fire, Plague, War and Treason.

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One of the cool things I noticed about it is that the pyramid is inverted below ground into the interior space below.  It comes to a point, immediately below that point is a sculpture, a pyramid.  Their apexes are only centimeters apart.  I’m not sure these pictures do it justice, but trust me when I tell you that it looks sweet.

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If all this isn’t enough, check it out lit up at night.  Definitely worthy of the City of Lights.

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Louvre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!

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I try to report on culture and lesser known tourist spots, but some of the big ones are impossible to avoid.  It’s a bit of a cliché, but I would be remiss if I did not include a post on the Eiffel Tower in my Paris posts.  It’s one of the world’s most famous structures; it’s become iconic, a symbol of Paris.  Today, Paris’s skyline is unimaginable without its iron lattice structure and spire.

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The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is 1000 feet (320 meters) high and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for 40 years.  Named after Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who (along with a team of engineers) designed it.  Built for the 1889 Worlds Fair (which coincidentally was the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution), it was intended to be a temporary structure.  It was so popular (ahem, profitable) that it remained even after the fair.  Elevator ticket sales in recouped almost the entire cost of the structure in just one year. Its popularity was not a given.

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Ironically, pre-construction, critics called Eiffel’s design an eyesore and predicted cost overruns.  What’s more, Eiffel completed the project on time and it quickly became a tourist attraction.  Gustave got the last laugh, he received the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France for creating what became a national symbol of France.

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The Eiffel Tower is repainted every seven years with 50 tons of the dark brown paint.  It’s made from 18,000 pieces of iron that create an elegant art nouveau webbed-metal design.   Eiffel recognized the impact wind forces on tall structures. As a result, he made the surface variation minimal with an open lattice of light trusses through which the wind can blow.  That’s why you don’t see any ornamentation on the building.

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It’s not just a sculpture, you can visit the tower’s interior (be ready for crowds and a wait, prebooking tickets may help).    You can get onto the three platforms by elevators and stairs.  From the top one, there are views of up to 37 miles (60 km). Since there’s wheelchair access to only the 1st and 2nd levels, we didn’t go up.  If I’d planned better, we would have gotten a reservation at the second level Le Jules Verne restaurant and snuck up with him to the higher Bar à Champagne.
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By the way, if you’re climbing the seemingly countless stairs to the first platform, look out for the names of 72 French scientists and other luminaries just beneath the first platform.

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Break Dancers In Paris Have Mad Skills

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I was intrigued when we’d seen break dancers in Nice.  Of course, I had to stop and take some pictures we saw some talented guys in Paris.  Of all the street performers we saw in Paris, they were my favorite.  They were amazing.

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The hill of the Trocadéro (officially named Place du Trocadéro et du 11 Novembre, although it is usually simply called the Place du Trocadéro) is the hill of Chaillot, a former village.  Today, it is home to the site of the Palais de Chaillot, and in Paris’ 16th arrondissement.  We went to the Trocedero for a great view of the Eiffel Tower from the other side of the Seine River and for some people watching, but I think I ended up taking more pictures of the b-boys than of Paris.

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The Trocedero has several museums including: the Musée National de la Marine (Naval Museum), the Musée de l’Homme (Ethnology Museum), the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (City of Architecture and Heritage), including the Musée National des Monuments Français (The Museum of French Monuments), and the Théâtre National de Chaillot (National Theater).  I’ve commented a bit on the large number of French monuments and can only imagine how much that museum could cover.

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Do You Also Giggle When You Say Flying Buttresses?

DSC_0516_2Every time I say “flying buttress” he laughs.  For some people, Notre Dame is a religious experience.  Our promenade around the exterior was more like a giggly experience.  Each time someone said “buttress,”  it was pronounced “BUTT-ress.”  You can’t take us anywhere.  Nevertheless, I still think flying buttresses are cool and good for more than just a laugh.

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Gothic churches are tall, spacious and filled with light.  Why?  The magic of technology.  Buttresses support the walls outward force.  Pointed arches (instead of the round Romanesque arches) allowed the enormous weight of stone roofs transferring it out and not just to the walls.  Essentially, the buttresses support the weight of the roof. This made building thinner walls with windows possible.

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You can see the support inside with a network of columns that become pointed.  They intersect at the top of the roof.

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Nowhere can you see this more than in Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle.  Almost all the walls are windows and it is filled with light.

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Reims Cathedral, It’s History Has More Drama Than A Telenovela

When I visited Champagne, I had to stop by and see the cathedral in Reims.  I’d heard so much about it and had to see it in person.  Yeah, from a distance, it might look a lot like many other French cathedrals, but this one is different.  It’s beautiful, light and airy, but that’s only scratching the surface.  It’s fascinating because of its dramatic history.

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is considered by many to be the world’s most perfect Gothic church.   Located in eastern France (an hour or so away from the WWI battlefield of Verdun),  it was almost completely destroyed during the First World War.    On September 19-20, 1914, 25 German shells struck the cathedral which then caught on fire, causing massive damage.  It became known as  the “Martyred Cathedral” a symbol of destruction during the Great War and brought out strong emotions in the French.  Strong emotions are an understatement.  Several injured German prisoners found refuge in the cathedral but were killed outraged French.

In 1924, billionaire American John D. Rockefeller, gave money to restore the cathedral.  Fabulously wealthy Andrew Carnegie kicked in some money too.    Today, it’s mostly restored, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely worth the few million they poured into it.

Reims has been a town since Roman times. In 498, Clovis was baptized as the first Catholic French king at the church.  This was a big deal.  If you don’t believe me, Pope John Paul II visited for the 1500th anniversary of the event.  I can pretty much guarantee that no world leader will mark the 1500th anniversary of anything I have done or anywhere I have been.  Monkey see, monkey do.  All the cool kings wanted to do it like Clovis did and it became the site for coronations of French kings (until the revolution).   Joan of Arc famously knelt in front of Charles VII when he was crowned King of France there.  Today, they have a Gallery of Kings, statues of the famous kings who were crowned there.

Here Saint Remy Baptized Clovis King of France

In 1211, when the existing church burned down, the built a bigger better one on the site of an earlier church (just like Geneva’s Cathedral St. Pierre).  Part of what makes Reims Cathedral such an amazing building is the amount of light inside (particularly in comparison with others constructed around the same time).  The architects designed the windows so that they would let in as much light as possible.

Notre-Dame de Reims did not escape the French Revolution unscathed. Fleur-de-lys and clovers were removed because they had been symbols of the monarchy.   They were replaced during the restoration.  Thanks Mr. Rockefeller.

Large circular windows at the ends of the cathedrals are known as the “Rose Window.”  It took me a few cathedrals to figure that one out.  Luckily, we’ve seen a few this year (Toledo, Milan). The church is known throughout France for its impressive stained glass windows.  During the restoration, some more contemporary have been used.  I like the one depicting Champagne making from the 1950’s.  Who would have thought church windows would depict hooch? The windows designed by Marc Chagall from the 1970’s (above) were my favorites because they were ethereal and dreamy.  You wouldn’t expect something so massive to look so light.   They plan on continuing with the different windows, making it interesting to for visitors compare and contrast the different styles.

By the way, if you go there, hunt out the “Smiling Angel” (also known as  “Smile of Reims”  and “L’Ange au Sourire”).  Decapitated by a burning beam in 1914,, during the fire of September 19, 1914 it the destruction and then with the restoration of the city. 

 

O-Kayersberg

Kayersburg has experienced countless conflicts.  Kayersberg (in Alsace, France near Colmar) was badly damaged during the second world war.  Wandering through the streets today, you’d never suspect the previous damage and turmoil.  Like Eguisheim, it is one of the prettiest towns in France (Les Plus Beau Villages de la France).

Located on the famous wine route, this beautifully preserved village is packed with history and traditions.  Kaysersberg‘s half-timbered buildings, rivers (the Sambach and the Bogenbach) and wonderful flowers make it one of the prettiest towns in France.  It’s location in a valley surrounded by vineyards doesn’t hurt either.

We strolled through the streets.  After eating our 600th pretzel of the trip, he checked out the church Saint-Croix ( and the neighboring Chapelle Saint-Michel).  I walked around the exterior, admiring the architecture.  I saw a sign that said “Ossuarie” (ossuary in English, a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains) and was intrigued.   Although it was locked, you could clearly see inside.  For us, it was a foreign, unfamiliar sight.  Bones were piled meters high all around the  building.

The quote translates from German to “that’s it because the master is enslaving by his 1463.” The rest has been lost.

The ossuary was built in 1514.   The bones are from the old cemetery which was moved outside the town walls in 1511.  The full German inscription on the ossuary has been lost.   It is believed to say someone about the master resting next to the servant.

We climbed up to ruins of a medieval castle.  Our eyes were immediately drawn down to the town and the tower of its 12th century church.  The surrounding countryside and vineyards were stunning.

Like the rest of Alsace, Kayersberg has a Christmas Market.  Theirs is reputed to be one of the most traditional and authentically Alsatian.  In a setting like this, would you expect anything less?

Colorful Colmar

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair amount in Europe, but never to Alsace (France) and always wanted to see it.  On the way to visit some friends in Germany, we stopped for a night.  We chose to stay the night in Colmar because it is a Rick Steves’ pick.  If it’s good enough for Rick, it’s good enough for me.  As usual, he didn’t let me down.

Alsatian towns are known for cobblestone streets, restored half-timbered buildings painted a myriad of colors and decorated with flowers.  Colmar is no exception.   Colmar is a larger than most with several distinct neighborhoods.  The Petit Venise quarter doesn’t look much like Venice (its canals don’t look much like Brugges either).  Regardless, you still want to stroll the streets and take pictures.

The “Fishermen’s quarter” is where fishermen and merchants sold fish and seafood here until mid 20th century.

Another famous neighborhood, the Quartier des Tanneurs contains tall houses with rooftop porches where Tanners dried their hides.  These tiny neighborhoods look wonderful in the summer, but are apparently also popular in the winter.  Colmar (and nearby Strasbourg) are known for their Christmas market and festive decorations.

Colmar has several unique old buildings.  The Ancienne Douane (Old Customs’s House), La Maison des Têtes (its intricate façade is ornamented with 106 heads, têtes in French), and the gothic Cathédrale Saint-Martin.

Colmar’s Museum of Unterlinden houses Matthias Grünewald‘s Issenheim Alterpiece.  Acclaimed as one of the most dramatic and moving pieces of art, it is unique and filled with iconography.   While I’m not one for most religious art, it was impressive.  The story behind it is interesting.   The religious community of Issenheim cared for the sick and terminally ill.  Depicting realistic pain, misery, Christ’s death and resurrection, analogized their suffering.

Although it might not be immediately obvious, many consider this one of the most exciting works in the history of German art!

We spent another couple of hours examining the museum’s other art, weapons, gold beer steins and other everyday objects from Alsace’s history.  From masterpieces to the everyday, it is one of the better museums we’ve seen.  Even on one of the first sunny summer days it merits a visit.  For us, the 10 most interesting things were:

  1. We saw people performing restoration work on a painting in the middle of the museum.  It was fascinating to watch them work.  I don’t think my eyesight or hand-eye coordination is good enough for that job.
  2. I stumbled into a room with a series of woodcut prints by Albrecht Durer.  I’m a fan of his and excited to see them up close.  They were pretty sweet.
  3. He liked the collection of old wine making equipment.  If you need to hide some bodies, you could definitely do in their giant wood casks.
  4. I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the suits of armor.  Just like the suits we saw at the Tower of London, there were excessively large codpieces that made me giggle and suits large enough to fit Pavarotti.
  5. He liked the old guns, swords helmets and instruments of punishment/torture.
  6. It was fun to compare the old paintings of Colmar to what we saw strolling the streets.  Some of the areas above were instantly recognizable!
  7. How could you not want to drink out of the gold and silver beer steins?
  8. Populated since the Neolithic era, the museum had archaeological finds in the basement, including burial sites replete with skeletons from Alsace.
  9. The museum itself is pretty sweet.  Housed in a former convent from the 13th century, it remains calm, orderly and detailed.
  10. Cheeky sculptures

Someone should have gone easy on the tartes

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statute of Liberty is from Colmar.  The town is justifiably proud of its hometown boy made good.  His sculptures (above) and tributes to his work decorate the town…and the traffic circles.  They are clearly proud of their hometown boy who made it to the big time.   Thanks for Lady Liberty Freddie!

Fribourg, Freiburg, A Charming Town And Lots Of Fun In Any Language

Founded in 1157, Fribourg was a sovereign republic until it joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Fribourg sits in a valley between lakes and mountains with the Saane river (Sarine in French) flowing through it. It is a gorgeous setting, but this is Switzerland, where picturesque settings abound.  We’ve gotten accustomed to the incredible beauty and now almost expect it.  Fribourg did not disappoint.

Fribourg isn’t large (population 40,000), but is charming.  It is home to the University of Fribourg.  This gives the city a slightly more cosmopolitan atmosphere and the vibrancy of a university town.   It’s medieval neighborhoods are well-preserved and charming.  The buildings show a blend of French and German Swiss culture.

Fribourg is known for its beautiful Gothic buildings.  Its old patrician townhouses combine German baroque and French classicism.  They have tons of detail, from stone carvings to ornate doors, to places to scrape your shoes.  Architectural buffs and home decor enthusiasts will love them.

Wander the small, steep streets and medieval staircases.  If you get tired, you can easily stop at a cafe in one of its many cobblestoned squares adorned with fountains.  Fribourg also has a funicular for those less enthusiastic about urban hiking.

Walk across Fribourg’s beautiful bridges.  The Pont de Berne, is a well-preserved covered wooden bridge dating from 1580.  The solid, yet elegant, Central Bridge links the old town with opposing cliffs.

Crossing the river and climbing the hill on the opposite side yields stunning views of Fribourg’s Old Town.  The St. Nicholas‘s Cathedral  lofty 15th-century Gothic bell tower is also easily visible on the skyline.

The city hall’s (Hôtel de Ville) gothic clock tower dates from 1546 (the blue pointy thing).  On Wednesdays, the square in front of city hall houses a market.  The nearby Rue de Lausanne is a car-free pedestrian zone.

Fribourg is not just the name of the city.  It is also the name of the canton (like the state).  The canton of Fribourg is bilingual with the Saane river (Sarine in French) forming the language boundary. On one side, they speak French, on the other, Swiss  German. All road signs in the Canton are bilingual!

Fribourg is the French speaking of the city.  Freiburg is the German spelling, but is not commonly used to avoid confusion with the German town of Freiburg.

It is worth taking at least an afternoon to wander Fribourg’s streets.  We plan on returning to spend an evening there.

We Lost Our Heads At The Tower Of London

The Tower of London is an impressive set of buildings with a storied history.

They also have a lot of interesting stuff in there like the crown jewels (including the world’s two largest diamonds).  Here are some of the more things we found interesting…

Kings and queens put their names on everything…including drainpipes.
A catapult.  Cool.
They have a changing of the guard, in other words you can watch the shift change.

They have ravens because of a “legend” that the tower will stand as long as they are there.  Ironically, the legend appeared when the tourists did.

We were surprised that we got to see spots (plural as there was more than one) where kings were murdered.

 

We laughed because Henry VIII’s armor got progressively larger over the years.  The first set was made for a fit man.  The second set was clearly larger.  The next set was Shreck-sized.  He, um, made other parts of the armor larger too.  I know, it’s more than a little disturbing.
Deeply disturbing, no question about it

Some of the armor was tiny.  This one was made for a three-year old.   They must have been more coordinated than I was at three.

He found the loo.

Bedazzled guns.  The sign says it was ordered from a jeweler and never picked up.  The jeweler turned it in.

There was also a gold plated revolver that was used in an infamous murder and a gold plated sub machine gun.  Was the orderer killed?  Incarcerated?  Deported?

There was a dragon made from weapons.  Check out the claws… they are made from old guns with wooden handles.

In the gift shop, they had a mug that when filled with hot liquid, Henry VIII’s wives disappeared.  Creative.

This marks the spot where Henry VIII’s wives were executed (Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey).

I got into trouble with the beefeaters.
Name someone else who else has a Yeoman Gaoler these days?

I’m still not sure why this hand is in the wall.  Please send me a note if you do.

 

Barn House Combo

 
Animals put out heat.  To take advantage of their heat (and keep people from stealing them), people built housebarns.  I don’t need one because he puts out a lot of BTU‘s at night.
They never really caught on in the US, but they are all over the Canton of Fribourg (near the town of Gruyeres).  I love them.  
P.S. Those of you who play Farmville, please let me know if you can really purchase a Swiss Housebarn.  Muchas gracias…um…er… Merci beaucoup.