Paris’ Memorial To The Martyrs Of The Deportation

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A driver in France told me that people are quick to blame other nations, but the French need to remember that the Vichy government and the French put up little resistance to the deportation of its citizens.   While this is debatable, the memorial is uncontrovertibly moving and thought-provoking.

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The Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation is a memorial to the 200,000 people (deported from Vichy France to Nazi concentration camps between 1940-45, during World War II.   85,000 were political activists, resistance fighters, homosexuals and gypsies.   Only 2,500 of those deported survived.

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Behind Notre Dame on the Isle de la Cite on the site of a former morgue, it is a quiet gem of a memorial.  It was designed to represent features of the concentration camps with narrow passages, tight stairways, spiked gates and restricted views of the horizon.  The installation is a long narrow corridor lined with small stones of quartz crystal.  Each stone represents one of the individuals deported during World War II.  It was designed by French modernist architect, writer and teacher, Georges-Henri Pingusson.  It was unveiled by President Charles de Gaulle in 1962.

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The Fields of Verdun (Where They Had A Giant Battle In The War To End All Wars)

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The Battle of Verdun was one of World War I Western Front‘s first major battles.  For 11 months in 1916, the German and French armies fought it out on the  hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse (unsurprisingly located in north-eastern France, near the Champagne region).

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I knew the area was a historical battleground for France and Germany, but driving from Alsace to Verdun, I was shocked by the sheer number of military monuments I saw from the highway.  When Charlemagne‘s empire was divided under the Treaty of Verdun (843 A.D.) the town became part of the Holy Roman Empire.  Later, the Peace of Westphalia (1648 A.D.) awarded Verdun to France.  France and Germany continued to butt heads.  Verdun was part of the defensive line that was built after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

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There were even more monuments when I got off the highway.  I had a little bit of driving time because I got off at the wrong exit.  I couldn’t believe that I just happened upon places like this in the countryside 20 miles (32K) from the battlefield.

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The Germans hoped a decisive strike and victory would demoralize their opponent, forcing a quick surrender.  Hey, it worked pretty well in the Franco-Prussian War.  Verdun seemed like a logical point of attack; it was almost surrounded.  The Germans failed capture the city of Verdun and to inflict a much higher body count on the other side.  The Battle of Verdun ended as a French tactical victory.  Unfortunately, it came at an extremely high cost to both sides, there were about  800,000 casualties!  Cemeteries surround the museum and contain 15,000 tombstones.

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L’Ossuaire de Douaumont, an ossuary next to the cemetery.  It is the final resting place for 130,000 French and Germans who died in muddy trenches. The tower is shaped like an artillery shell.

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Armies (British, French, American, and German) fired approximately 720 million shells and mortar bombs on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.  Even today, entire areas remain cordoned off and live bombs are turned up by farmers plowing their fields.  Notice the trees are relatively young.  Artillery shelling demolished the existing forests.  It also created craters that are still visible (see the photos below).

DSC_0955DSC_0950The shelling destroyed villages of Cumières and Chattancourt.  Believe it or not, there used to be a town where the chapel now stands!

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The museum is amazing.  I was stunned by how low tech some of it was.  There were carts that had been pulled by horses (they had an ancient looking car too) and a hot air balloon.

DSC_0918DSC_0936They still had enough technology, machine guns, flamethrowers, poisonous gas, etc., to be very, very deadly.
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The museum has photos and a recreation of the trenches.  It’s hard to imagine the conditions the soldiers endured.

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After mobilization of the German Army during World War I, the government identified notable artists to be withdrawn from combat to protect them.  Franz Marc (one of my favorites) was on the list, but before orders for reassignment could reach him, he was struck in the head and killed instantly in 1916 by a shell splinter.

By the way, November 11, is Armistice Day.  On November 11, 1918, fighting ceased in “The Great War” when an armistice, a temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect.  It started on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, but the “war to end all wars” officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France.

Minding The Gap

Why were we here instead of on the highway?

While heading north towards Geneva, we got off the road and got to see the beauty of the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France.    It’s a good thing it was so beautiful, because our 3-4 hour drive home ended up taking over 8.

You can see why the Tour de France often rides through here.   In fact, they’re headed through there this week.  It’s near Gap and the infamous Mont Ventoux.  The views of the dams and lakes, and mountain scenery are spectacular.

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Vaison-la-Romaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At one time, Vaison-la-Romaine  (which you might remember from the post about Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers) was the capital for the Voconce people.   It is famous for its ancient Gallo-Roman ruins including a Roman bridge.

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vauclus...

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Le Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bridge is one of five remaining Roman bridges in Provence. It survived a German bomb during the World War II and the Ouvèze River’s devastating floods in 1992.   Vaison has two excavated Roman districts, and an Archaeological Museum.

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse de...

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Maisons de pierre á Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We weren’t the only ones who got off the highway and started taking side roads.  Since it was the edge of the alps, there weren’t many alternatives and the road was packed.  Ironically, it was still less crowded and moved faster than in the south of France.    We entertained ourselves by counting the number of people we saw pulled off on the side of the road answering the call of nature (over 10).

If you’re interested in a French vacation without the seemingly ever-present crowds, this is a part of France for you.  If you’re a Tour de France fan, this is also a part of France for you.  If you like simple bucolic beauty, it’s for you too.

I think the photo below is a viaduct on the Grenoble train line  (Chemin de Fer de La Mure/the Mure railway).  We saw it on the route from Orpierre (with its nice swimming hole in Les Gorges de la Méouge) to Grenoble.   It can be reached easily by road from Grenoble, or by trains on the SNCF line towards Gap.

Find Out About Stops on the 2013 Tour De France

Route of the 2013 Tour De France from Wikipedia

It’s that time again!  Regular readers of this blog know that I love cycling and I’ve posted about it:

The 2013 Tour de France starts today!!!!  The route and schedule is different each year.  Lately, the tour has ventured into neighboring countries including: Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxenbourg, the United Kingdom and Spain.   This year, it’s all in France.   It is the 100th anniversary of the tour and the route is epic!

For those of you Tour enthusiasts out there who want to see some posts about places along the route, I thought I’d post the route links to posts about places on it.  Stages 1-3 are in Corsica, the only departments (kind of like states the tour hasn’t yet visited.  We haven’t been, but hear its beautiful.  Napoleon, Leticia Casta and Garance Dore all hail from this Mediterranean island.

Stage 1:  June 29, Porto-Vecchio – Bastia (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 213 km (132 mi), Flat stage

Stage 2:  June 30, Bastia – Ajaccio (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica),  156 km (97 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 3:  July 1, Ajaccio – Calvi (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 145.5 km (90 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 4:  July 2, Nice – Nice (Alpes-Maritimes part  of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 25 km (16 mi), Team time trial

We visited Nice and wrote a couple of posts on it (NiceBreakdancers in Nice).  It’s in the Cote d’Azur, also known as the French Rivera.  It’s sunny and has beautiful water.  Villefranche, the town next door to Nice, is adorable, hilly and calmer.

Stage 5:  July 3, Cagnes-sur-Mer – Marseille (Alpes-Maritimes and Bouches-du-Rhône parts of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 228.5 km (142 mi), Flat stage

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Our favorite part of the south of France was the hill towns just inland from the sea Eze (via the infamous Grande Corniche road that is popular with cyclists), VenceSt. Paul-de-Vence).  The tour goes right by Vence as it cuts through the hills behind the coast on the way to Marseille.  On the way, it passes through Brignoles.  Although I haven’t posted about it, we’ve been.  Here are some pics of the town and the route (the church is Abbaye de La Celle, a 12th-century Benedictine abbey that served as a convent until the 17th century).

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We visited Aix (Our AixperienceKnife Fight in Aix) Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers,.  Not that the riders will have time to enjoy it, but it is a lovely and tres French old town that dates back to Roman times.

Stage 6:  July 4, Aix-en-Provence – Montpellier (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon departments), 176.5 km (110 mi), Flat stage

The tour will pass by the delightfully scruffy town of Arles (Arles Better Than NewWhat’s Latin For Roman? Finding Out All About Ancient Rome In Arles).  It’s known for its amazing Roman ruins, for Van Gogh and Gauguin.  They were roomies there.  In fact, it was in Arles that old Vinnie sliced off his ear.    The famous aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, is also nearby. It’s impressive.

They will also go by one of the most beautiful towns in the south of France, Les Baux de Provence (We Didn’t Know The Valley Of Hell Was So Beautiful, Les Baux).  The helicopters will be out in force there.

Stage 7:  July 5, Montpellier – Albi (Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées departments), 205.5 km (128 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 8:  July 6, Castres – Ax 3 Domaines (Midi-Pyrénées department), 195 km (121 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 9:  July 7, Saint-Girons – Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Hautes-Pyrénées department), 168.5 km (105 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 10:  July 9, Saint-Gildas-des-Bois – Saint-Malo (Brittany region, Ille-et-Vilaine department), 197 km (122 mi), Flat stage

Stage 11:  July 10, Avranches – Mont Saint-Michel (Lower Normandy in the Manche  department), 33 km (21 mi), Flat stage, Individual time trial

Stage 12:  July 11, Fougères – Tours (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire department), 218 km (135 mi), Flat stage

Stage 13:  July 12, Tours – Saint-Amand-Montrond (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire and Cher departments), 173 km (107 mi), Flat stage

Stage 14:  July 13, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule – Lyon (Auvergne region in the Allier department and the Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 191 km (119 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 15:  July 14, Givors – Mont Ventoux (Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 242.5 km (151 mi), Mountain stage

Although I don’t have any great shots of the infamous Mont Ventoux, the stage will be epic. Undoubtedly, they will have at least passing coverage of the nearby town of Orange (Visiting Ancient Rome in Orange, France).  Chateau Neuf-du-Pape is nearby as are the Cotes du Rhone (Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rocked Us…LiterallyWine Museum In Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

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Stage 16:  July 16, Vaison-la-Romaine – Gap, (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Vaucluse department), 168 km (104 mi), Medium-mountain stage

DSC_0930I haven’t posted about this area, but will soon.  I promise.

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Stage 17:  July 17, Embrun – Chorges (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 32 km (20 mi), Individual time trial

Stage 18:  July 18, Gap – Alpe d’Huez (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 172.5 km (107 mi), Mountain stage

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Stage 19:  July 19, Le Bourg-d’Oisans – Le Grand-Bornand (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 204.5 km (127 mi), Mountain stage

The roads in this area are narrow and windy.  The area is steep.  It could be an interesting stage.

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Stage 20:  July 20, Annecy – Mont Semnoz Annecy – Mont Semnoz  (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 125 km (78 mi), Mountain stage

As is close to Geneva, visits are a favorite of visitors.  It is a beautiful town in a stunning setting ( AnnecyVenetian CarnivalMurder Mystery In Idyllic Annecy).  It was in the news last year for a brutal quadruple murder in the mountains just outside the town.  Just days ago, an arrest was made.

Stage 20:  July 21, Versailles – Paris (Île-de-France region) 133.5 km (83 mi), Flat stage

The last stage is usually ceremonial for everyone but the sprinters, so it leaves plenty of time for coverage of  Paris’ many sights (Break Dancers In Paris Have Mad SkillsNavigating Paris Museums in a Wheelchair, The Paris Subway Iconic Signs, Tourists Mob Paris, Here’s How To Manage, Notre Dame, Street Performers in Paris, I.M. Pei’s Glass Pyramid, Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!Flying Buttresses).

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If you’re actually enough of a Tour geek to read down this far, you might know Bob Roll.  Tell Bobbke that I’m a huge fan.  I’m a pretty good time, but only wish I could be as fun as he is.

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)

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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Navigating Paris Museums in a Wheelchair

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My dad came to visit.  He traveled all the way to Europe and was bound and determined to see things.  Unfortunately, dad’s knee is bone on bone.  He can walk, but needs knee surgery soon and can’t spend much time on his feet or move too quickly.  The only way to get him around museums was renting a folding wheelchair (chaise roulette).  Museums often have ones you can borrow for free.    It was lightweight and made it possible for him to see a lot.  The highlight of being in a wheelchair was a front row seat to the Mona Lisa at Paris’ Louvre Museum.

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Unfortunately, the Louvre museum was once a palace and is not as handicapped friendly as we’d hoped.  Wheelchair ramps were sorely lacking.  It was pretty obvious that it is hard to retrofit museums with elevators/lifts at convenient spots.  The Musée d’Orsay (a bit of a nightmare) and the Hôtel National des Invalides Army Museum weren’t easy to navigate either.  Fortunately, they had some pretty cool stuff to make any the frustration well worth it.

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Check out all the in the stairs in these pictures.  While the retrofit of an old train station is pretty cool and well done, all the stairs make some corners virtually inaccessible.

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Even when they had a wheelchair lift, we had to go in search of personnel to operate the lift.  This often took 20 minutes or so.  While all of this was a bit of an inconvenience, it (more or less) worked and my dad was blown away by what he saw.  So were we.

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On another note, it made us appreciate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how accessible things are in the US.

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The Paris Subway Iconic Signs

DSC_0639_2The Paris Métro‘s art nouveau entrances and art deco candelabras are iconic.  They are almost as readily recognizable as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe or the Louvre.  The smell of the subway is almost equally iconic, but fortunately not as easily expressed via the internet.  

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A French friend explained to us that for something to be popular in France, it must be beautiful, even if it means sacrificing function.  A lot of Paris’ beauty and charm lies in the elegance of everyday life.  These subway signs are a perfect manifestation of this.

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These “edicule” entrances were designed by the architect, Hector Guimard in 1899.  Some conservative Parisians considered them too fanciful.  Some saw the wrought-iron stems clutching glowing reddish balls, pistils and stamens of flowers, as suggestive. Eventually, acceptance grew.  Nevertheless, they didn’t have the appreciation they enjoy today.  Many of the signs were torn down over the years, in the name of modernization.  Eventually, Paris recognized their beauty, value and symbolic power. In the late 70’s the remaining ones were declared historic landmarks.  At the end of the century, they restored the remaining art nouveau Metro entrances.

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Cool huh?  We aren’t the only ones who think so.  The New York Modern Art Museum bought the old wrought-iron railings from a Metro entrance.  They are on display as a pioneering, beautiful example of art nouveau.

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Tourists Mob Paris, Here’s How To Manage

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I think we saw more tourists in Paris than actual Parisians.  Here are some hints for navigating a tourists Paris.

  • Since we were an odd number, rather than renting a couple of hotel rooms, we rented a tiny apartment.  It was easy to book online and saved us a ton of dough.
  • Get the museum pass at the tourist office.  We bought ours at the train station’s tourist office upon arrival.  I only had one person in front of me in line and barely had to wait.  It allowed us to skip the long lines at every attraction… and saved us a bunch of money

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  • Get to the Louvre early.  Very, Very early.  Bus tours will start arriving.  If you encounter them, you will be swept away in a sea of people madly clicking their cameras.  Get there early to see the big sights before they finish breakfast and on the bus.
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  • While you are at the Louvre (and other museums), take advantage of the great views from museum cafes.  We had an unforgettable coffee with this view.  Priceless.DSC_0742_2
  • French food is pretty good.  Nevertheless like all cultures, a bit of it seems suspect to the outside. While I will eat frog’s legs and snails.  I can’t stand the terrines, the molded meat and gelatin. Even knowing that it may result in eating something suspect, I like to eat at restaurants where the menu isn’t in English (or like some super touristy places in Italian, German, Russian and Chinese as well).  Do yourself a favor and avoid the loud Americans that will be at the next table over, get off the beaten path and try to find a place without an English menu.  Not only will it be more affordable, but you’ll have a more authentic experience.  If you don’t you could end up like a friend who paid $52 for a hamburger in Italy.  We paid about that for an entire meal that was one of the best of our lives.

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  • If you happen to bein Paris during sale time (known as Les Soldes), you’re lucky.   Markdowns occur at designated times twice a year.  Shop away!