Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Summer in the City Opens with Museum Mile Festival, Finishes with US Open

The Guggenheim Museum is one of eight major institutions that are free to explore during the annual Museum Mile Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City’s summer cultural season kicks off with the 46th Annual Museum Mile Festival – the Big Apple’s “biggest block party” –on Tuesday, June 18, from 6 to 9 pm, rain or shine. Walk the mile on Fifth Avenue between 82nd Street and 104th Street while visiting eight of New York City’s finest cultural institutions, open free during these extended hours: The Metropolitan Museum of ArtNeue Galerie New YorkSolomon R. Guggenheim MuseumCooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design MuseumThe Jewish Museum; Museum of the City of New York; El Museo del Barrio; and The Africa Center. Several neighborhood partners, including the New York Academy of Medicine, the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Asia Society, and AKC Museum of the Dog will also join in this celebration. 

The Museum Mile Festival is the Big Apple’s biggest block party, with street entertainment and free admissions to museums © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s an electric, eclectic festive atmosphere, with live music and street performers all along the avenue, plus special exhibitions, works from permanent collections and special family-oriented activities inside.

One of our favorite stops is the Museum of the City of New York (celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), where you can visit its newest exhibition Changing the Face of Democracy: Shirley Chisolm at 100 and the send off of its centennial exhibition This is New York: 100 Years of the City in Art and Pop Culture . Grab a Kids’ Activity Guide for the little ones.

Dancing to the 1920s Hot Jazz of Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island (June 8-9 and August 10-11, 2024, 11 am-5 pm), starts with a magical ferry ride from Battery Park or the Brooklyn Navy Yard. People come dressed to the 9s in 1920s/Gatsby-style outfits, bringing picnics and take part in the music and zeitgeist of the 1920s. With music and dancing led by festival founder and host Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra, the merriment continues with a score of other entertainers: the bedazzling Dreamland Follies, a 10-lady Art Deco dance spectacle evoking the Great Ziegfeld, the fantastic Queen Esther paying tribute to jazz royalty of yore, Peter Mintun tickling the ivories with his incredible piano skills and the Gelber & Manning band. Enjoy the renowned and fun-loving dance troupe, Roddy Caravella and The Canarsie Wobblers with their scandalous Charleston numbers and rebellious and exuberant spirit of the Roaring ‘20s. Entertainments are interspersed with fun events like dance lessons and a period bathing suit contest. This isn’t free – it’s a ticketed event. Tickets and info at www.jazzagelawnparty.com. (Reserve a ferry ride to access the location.)

The New York Philharmonic returns to Central Park for its free summer concert series © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, have become an iconic New York summer experience since they began in 1965, transforming parks throughout the city into a patchwork of picnickers enjoying friends, family, and priceless music under the stars, for free! This summer, Thomas Wilkins conducts the Orchestra in a program that ranges from classics by Beethoven, Elgar, and Rimsky-Korsakov to Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, with Randall Goosby as soloist, to new music by Carlos Simon and NY Phil Very Young Composers. All outdoor performances begin at 8 PM and conclude with fireworks! (The Free Indoor Concert in Staten Island begins at 4 PM.): June 11 Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx; June 12 Concerts in the Parks: Central Park, Manhattan; June 13, Concerts in the Parks: Cunningham Park, Queens; June 14, Concerts in the Parks: Prospect Park, Brooklyn; June 16 Free Indoor Concert: St. George Theatre, Staten Island.

The New York Philharmonic Summer in the Parks performances finish with a dramatic fireworks display© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The cherished Shakespeare in the Park, traditionally held at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, this year is a traveling show while the Delacorte is undergoing its most significant revitalization of its 62-year history. Instead, this year the Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis; Executive Director, Patrick Willingham) is offering  a “GO PUBLIC!”  festival of of free summer programming taking place across all five boroughs. Its Mobile Unit is presenting a joyful, bilingual (English/Spanish) musical adaptation of “The Comedy of Errors,”  May 28-June 2 – The New York Public Library and Bryant Park on the Fifth Avenue Terrace (Manhattan) June 6-9, June 13-14, June 20-21 – Hudson Yards (Manhattan). Also: A.R.R.O.W. Field House (Queens) J. Hood Wright Park (Manhattan) Maria Hernandez Park (Brooklyn) Roy Wilkins Park (Queens) St. John the Divine (Manhattan) St. Mary’s Park (Bronx) Sunset Park (Brooklyn) Wolfe’s Pond Park (Staten Island).

Next up is Movie in the Parks (July 11–September 6), bringing free screenings of Shakespeare in the Park’s version of Much Ado About Nothing to parks throughout the City. (Can’t make it to any of them? This recording and other Shakespeare favorites are available to stream for free.) Visit the website for specific dates and locations (https://publictheater.org/programs/shakespeare-in-the-park/summer-24/go-public/).

In summer, all the city is a stage, and every lawn a picnic table © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bryant Park is also hosting picnic performances of New York City Opera’s full production of the perennial favorite, Puccini’s Tosca on May 31, June 1, August 23 and 24, at 7 pm. (New York City Opera: Puccini Celebration) as part of a summer-long arts and culture festival, sponsored by Bank of America, from June 6 to September 13, featuring an amazing series of dance, music, theater, movies, plus eateries, shops and a carousel. (https://bryantpark.org/activities/picnic-performances for schedule).

The Hudson River Greenway is a whole destination in itself, and one of the best places to bike. In fact, it is part of the Empire State Trail Network, that goes from Lower Manhattan up to the Canadian border © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hudson River Greenway is a whole destination in itself, with every imaginable sport (tennis, pickleball, basketball, kayaking), fabulous eateries, even a sand beach, plus along the way, historic and cultural places like the monument to the Irish famine, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Whitney Museum, Battery Park and ferry access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, plus concerts such at two venues within the enchanting “Little Island.”

From June through September, Little Island presents a series of all new work across dance, music, theater and opera in the Amph  ($25, tickets and schedule, https://www.littleislandtickets.com/). In addition, there are free concerts Wednesday-Sunday in the Glade.

Little Island is a unique green space unlike any other in New York City. The award-winning public park is located in Hudson River Park and features two performance venues where visitors can experience cultural events all summer long © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The newest experience on the Hudson River Greenway is Gansevoort Peninsula. Located in Hudson River Park between Gansevoort Street and Little West 12th Street, and opposite the Whitney Museum of American Art, which affords an actual sand beach (1200 tons of sand, beach umbrellas, Adirondack-style chairs, even misting stations, and boardwalk)  for lounging. Also look for “Day’s End”, a public art installation by artist David Hammons, donated to Hudson River Park by the Whitney Museum of American Art.  See the full events calendar, https://hudsonriverpark.org/, https://hudsonriverpark.org/the-park/piers-and-places/

New York City has been named the most cultural city in the USA. Here’s what’s of note happening this summer, compiled by the New York City Tourism + Conventions, the official destination marketing organization and convention and visitors bureau:

NYC The Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism” through July 28 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Through July 28, The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism, an exhibition exploring how Black artists portrayed everyday modern life during the 1920s–40s in Harlem and across the United States amid the Great Migration. Featuring 160 works including painting, sculpture, photography, film and ephemera, it’s the first art museum survey of its kind in New York City since 1987.

The Whitney Museum of American Art has unveiled the roster for Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better Than the Real Thing, featuring 69 artists and two collectives. This edition marks the 81st installment of the museum’s esteemed exhibition series, the longest-running survey of American art. The program is now open and runs through August 11. Beginning September 25, The Whitney will unveil Edges of Ailey, a comprehensive exhibition celebrating the life and impact of American dancer Alvin Ailey, featuring daily performances, workshops and a diverse range of artworks and archival materials.

Experience a surreal journey inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Bronx’s New York Botanical Garden, with Wonderland: Curious Nature, from May 18–October 27Follow iconic characters through whimsical scenes in the garden and explore imaginative horticultural displays inside the Haupt Conservatory, featuring installations from renowned artists including Yoko Ono, Alyson Shotz and Abelardo Morell.

A tribute to Ming Dynasty architecture, the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island—one of just two authentic classical outdoor Chinese gardens in the US—is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Crafted in Suzhou, China, its elements include roof tiles, pavilions and bridges. Inspired by ancient poetry and paintings, the garden features magnificent rock formations resembling mountains. Visitors can explore pavilions, a bamboo forest path, waterfalls and a koi-filled pond.

The Morgan Library & Museum, which is marking 100 years since its establishment as a public institution by Jack Morgan as a repository of fabulous documents, is exhibiting Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature and Walton Ford: Birds and Beasts of the Studio. The next exhibition in the campaign will be Liberty to the Imagination: Drawings from the Eveillard Gift, on view beginning June 7.

Since its inception in 1824, the Brooklyn Museum has become a global cultural center, driven by the innovative spirit of its borough. As it celebrates two centuries of groundbreaking initiatives, the museum invites audiences to explore special exhibitions and events showcasing its vibrant artistic community. Highlights include the launch of immersive exhibitions like Solid Gold and Brooklyn Made. Notably, the museum boasts an in-residence composer, Niles Luther, who scores music for various exhibitions and artwork on-site, making it the only museum in the United States to offer such an immersive experience. Visitors can expect a year of discovery and celebration in honor of its bicentennial—kicking off with a 200th Birthday Bash on October 5.

A destination that takes you to other worlds, Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History offers fabulous innovative exhibitions. Admission by timed entry, reserved online. Open daily, 10 am–5:30 pm. American Museum of Natural History,200 Central Park West, 212-769-5606, amnh.org.

Be prepared to be dazzled and fascinated when you visit the American Museum of Natural History and the Gilder Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New performing arts offerings are revitalizing New York City’s cultural landscape with the expansion of iconic venues and the emergence of new stages. The historic Apollo Theater recently debuted the Victoria Theater, its first expansion in 90 years, which introduced two new stages and created an arts campus in Harlem. The inaugural season promises a diverse lineup including Alex Harsley, Stefon Harris and David Hammons. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the newly restored Brooklyn Paramount, now a concert hall, hosts various shows featuring acclaimed acts like Sting, Liam Gallagher, St. Vincent, Orville Peck and many more in its 2024 lineup. Across the East River, the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC) stands as a beacon of artistic expression in Lower Manhattan, welcoming emerging and established artists across various disciplines since its launch in September 2023. The PAC’s inaugural 2023–24 season continues this summer with the opening of An American Soldier, The SurvivalCats: “The Jellicle Ball”.

One of New York City’s newest performing arts venues, the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, in Lower Manhattan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Jackie Robinson Museum commemorates the groundbreaking contributions of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball and one of the most celebrated baseball players of all time. Robinson’s legacy extends far beyond the baseball diamond, as he also made significant strides in civil rights, economic empowerment and social justice. From now through December 31, the museum is offering a free self-guided walking tour, Jackie Robinson’s Harlem, for visitors looking to dive deeper into Robinson’s connection to the neighborhood.

The Alice Austen House,Staten Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City is the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ+ movement. The Stonewall Inn, site of the historic 1969 riots, stands as a symbol of resilience and is soon to be complemented by a dedicated visitor center opening in June. Other cultural sites include theLeslie-Lohman Museum of Art, which celebrates LGBTQ+ identity through exhibitions and programs that showcase the ever-evolving queer experience, as well as the Alice Austen House Museum, which features the pioneering photographer’s work and has been a National Site of LGBTQ+ History since 2017. On the Upper West Side, the forthcoming American LGBTQ+ Museum at the New-York Historical Society, set to open its doors in 2026, will be the nation’s first museum dedicated to LGBTQ+ history.

One of the best parts of the US Open at the Billie Jean Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, is getting to see tennis greats like Rafael Nadal practice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If Summer in the City starts with the Museum Mile Festival, for me, the end of New York’s summer comes with the US Open Tennis Championships, the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year. The tournament dates back to 1881, and since 1978, the tournament has found its home at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens’ Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a magnet for the best tennis talent worldwide such as reigning champions Coco Gauff, Novak Djokovic, Diede de Groot and Alfie Hewett. The tournament takes place August 26–September 8, 2024. Insiders tip: the week before, it is free to watch the thrilling play of the qualifiers’ tournament, and see the tennis stars practice.

New York City Borough Pass, Citywide: a new sightseeing pass designed to showcase the beauty of the neighborhoods and cultures across all five boroughs. The pass features a diverse roster of popular attractions, museums, performing arts venues, including the Alice Austen House Museum, MoMA PS1, New York Botanical Garden, Van Cortlandt House Museum, Staten Island Children’s Museum. (888-921-5333, https://www.nycboroughpass.com/)

The Go City Pass for New York City offers 100 different options in all five boroughs. For example, the two-day all inclusive pass, giving access to as much as you want/can do from among 105 attractions is $134 – regardless of how much the actual attractions charge (GoCity.com, 800 887 9103).

For all there is to do and see in New York City, visit nyctourism.com.

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Time-Traveling through Strasbourg in France’s Alsace-Lorraine

The spectacular panoramic view of Le Petit France from the terrace atop Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Staying over in the historic city of Strasbourg in France’s Alsace-Lorraine region, means that you can go out in the early morning, before the daytrippers crowd the streets, and soak in the atmosphere.

A cyclist rides through the Tanners Row, empty of people in the early morning © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk through Tanners Row, which in this early morning hour, is peaceful. A guy on a bike rides through, a reminder that this is still a neighborhood, a community.

I go to explore Strasbourg’s Les Ponts Couverts and the Vauban Dam, located a short distance from each other.

Strasbourg’s Les Ponts Couverts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Les Ponts Couverts (covered bridges) are three bridges spanning the River Ill, dominated by three imposing square towers, vestiges of the 13th-century city walls. A bit further, there’s a fourth tower nicknamed “the executioner’s tower.”

While I fruitlessly look for covered bridges, I finally realize that they were replaced in 1865 by these stone bridges without a roof (so not covered),where I am standing. As I observe the beautiful views from the bridge, a fellow tells me you can walk on the Panoramic Terrace on top of the Vauban Dam – in fact, the views from there are spectacular.

Statues stored in a cell within the Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A short walk from the bridge is the Vauban Dam. “The Great Lock” was built between 1686 and 1700 based on plans of Louix XIV’s military engineer, Vauban. Built with 13 arches, it was constructed so that they could flood part of the city to defend against an enemy attack.  It is fascinating to walk through – some sculptures just hanging about gathering cobwebs – but most marvelous is a rooftop terrace, laid out in 1965, which you can walk over for a spectacular panoramic view of the old city.

Looking out from the interior of the Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

From here, you can see the fingers of the River Ill coming together below you. (Pro tip: though amazing to see in the morning light, you are looking into the sun – the reflections on the water are amazing – but check it out in the late afternoon.)

The view of Le Petit France from the terrace atop Vauban Dam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Palais Rohan

One of the many jewels of Strasbourg is the Palais Rohan. Constructed between 1732 and 1742 from blueprints by Robert deCotte, First Architect to the King, it was built for Cardinal Armand-Gaston de Rohan-Soubise, Prince-Bishop of Strasbourg, modeled after Paris’ grand mansions.

Palais Rohan was constructed between 1732 and 1742 from blueprints by Robert deCotte, First Architect to the King, modeled after Paris’ grand mansions.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Following the French Revolution, the palace became the Emperor’s royal residence, and after 1870, a museum. Today, the Palais Rohan houses three stellar museums: the Archeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Fine Arts Museum – just walking through the palace to the various rooms where the exhibits are displayed is a phenomenal experience.

(I have to rush through in the couple of hours before I need to get to the Regent Petit France Hotel where we are getting picked up for the European Waterways canal cruise aboard the Panache. It would have been better to have four hours.)

The art and artifacts are gorgeously presented in an exquisite palace. Definitely follow the helpful “My First Visit…” brochures which detail where to find the highlights.

The Museum of Decorative Arts is set in the historical royal apartments in the Palais Rohan, today with the juxtaposition of a modern art exhibit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Fine Arts presents a fascinating overview of European painting up to 1870. Located on the first floor of the Palais Rohan, the museum offers a tour through the centuries and schools: Italian and Flemish Primitives (Giotto, Memling); Renaissance and Mannerism (Botticelli, Raphael, Veronese, Lucas de Leyde, El Greco); Baroque, Naturalism and Classicism in the 17th and 18th centuries (Rubens, Vouet, Zurbarán, La Belle Strasbourgeoise de Largillière, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Goya); 19th century (Delacroix, Chassériau, Corot, Courbet). 

Among the highlights is La Belle Strasbourgeoise, from 1703, a portrait of a woman from one of Strasbourg’s important families in the time of Louis XIV with her imposing two-cornered hat in black lace, painted by one of the best portrait painters of the time, Nicolas de Largilliere. Though the woman has never been identified, the painting has become a symbol of the museum, much as the Mona Lisa is to Le Louvre.

Museum of Decorative Arts is set in the historical apartments – so you visit the chambers of the King and the Bishop-Prince, with exceptional examples of “the princely style of life under the monarchy.” It continues into the wing of the old stables with a tour of rooms housing decorative arts collections tracing the diversity and development of applied arts in Strasbourg from 1681 to 1870 – world-famous Hannong ceramics, furnishings, sculpture and paintings, timepieces, metalwork, silver and goldsmith art, and a selection of mechanical toys from the Tomi Ungerer Foundation.

The Museum of Decorative Arts is set in the historical royal apartments in the Palais Rohan, today with the juxtaposition of a modern art exhibit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most interesting section is the Chamber of the Bishops – the suite of rooms forming the King’s apartments. Originally, there would have been portraits of bishops but in 1793, the paintings were burned by revolutionaries who replaced them with allegorical figures of the Civic Virtues, which is what we see today. One of the paintings dates from the First French Empire and displays the monogram of Napoleon I and the Empress Josephine.

Louis XV is said to have slept in this bedchamber during his visit to Strasbourg in 1744 and Marie -Antoinette in 1770 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the notable occupants of the King’s bedchamber were Louix XV, himself, who stayed here in October 1744, and the Daughines Marie-Josephe de Saxe in 1747 and Marie-Antoinette in 1770. The wood paneling is among the masterpieces of the French Rocaille style. Elaborately stylized shell-like, rock-like, and scroll motifs, Rocaille is one of the more prominent aspects of the Rococo style of architecture and decoration that developed in France during the reign of King Louis XV (1715–74).

Here, there is a disorienting melding of the old with the new: You go through the Royal Suite – bedchamber, Assembly Room which have been complemented with anachronistic modern art displays.

In the Decorative Arts Museum in the Palais Rohan, a room full of fascinating clockworks, including a cock clock and an astronomical clock, designed in the 16th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Seeing my interest, the guide directs me to a room with clockworks – the cock clock originates from the first astronomical clock dating from the 14th century of the Strasbourg Cathedral; in the center of the room are parts of the second astronomical clock designed in the 16th century by mathematician Conrad Dasypodius.

I visit a room that originally was the Prince-Bishops’ bedchamber, but when it was refurbished in the Imperial period, the bedchamber became Emperor Napoleon’s Morning Room and the antechamber of the Prince-Bishop became a small dining room. The decoration was damaged during bombing in 1944.

Emperor Napoleon’s Morning in the Palais Rohan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The entire Palais Rohan is an exhibit of decorative arts – it was built by Armand Gaston, Prince de Rohan Soubise, Bishop of Strasbourg from 1704-1713 who initiated the work. He wanted a building in the style of the Chateau at Versailles and commissioned plans from the King’s chief architect, Robert de Cotte. Construction, decoration and furnishing lasted from 1732-1742.

Archaeological Museum, the oldest of Strasbourg’s museums, was founded in the 18th century. It is fabulous. Housed in the basement of the Palais Rohan, the diversity and wide chronological range of the artifacts on display make it one of the most important archaeological museums in France.

The Archaeological Museum in the Palais Rohan has burial sites from the Bronze and Iron Age© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Archaeological Museum has fascinating exhibits that date back, remarkably, from 600,000 BC through the early Middle Ages (800 A.D.) You get insights into the daily life of Paleolithic hunters and the first neolithic farmers, Bronze Age and Iron Age burials, the everyday life of Gallo-Romans, and jewelry and weapons unearthed from Frankish and Atamanic graves.

Among the highlights in the The Archaeological Museum in the Palais Rohan is this chariot for traveling through the world of the dead © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the highlights: A chariot for traveling through the world of the dead, taken from tombs of Celtic princes from the Iron Age (750 BC-050 BC). And you can see the oldest tool in Eastern France – a chopper made of rock used for slicing or scraping, that was found at Achenheim and dated about 600,000 B.C. There is also a funeral headstone of a Gallo-Roman farming couple wearing their everyday clothes, that dates from the late 3rd Century A.D.

Palais Rohan, 2 place du Chateau Strasbourg, +33 (0) 3 68 98 50 00, www.musees.strasbourg.eu.

Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg

After returning from the canal cruise aboard the Panache and before taking the afternoon train back to Paris, I find my way down this really colorful street off Cathedral Square (that’s saying something in Strasbourg) to the Historical Museum of the City of Strasbourg. It is also not to be missed (and try to see early in your visit).

The Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg is housed in what once was the Grande Boucherie (slaughterhouse) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You wouldn’t believe that the museum, founded in 1920, is housed in what was the Grande Boucherie (the city’s slaughterhouse) built 1587-1588; it was renovated and reopened in 2013.

Entering the Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg is like entering a time machine that transports you to exciting, dramatic periods of France’s history: Gutenberg’s printing press and the rise of a printing/publishing industry in Strasbourg, and what that meant. The French Revolution. The 1870 Commune Revolt. World War I. The Nazi Occupation and resistance. The museum offers an engaging tour lets you discover nine centuries of Strasbourg’s existence through 1700 works on display –paintings, artifacts, possessions – and interactive and digital devices.

Strasbourg was a free city of the Empire, which meant it had its own walls and enjoyed the privilege of holding a market and minting its own coins. Strasbourg did not take an oath of loyalty to the sovereign and did not owe the sovereign taxes or military, except for an escort for his coronation. Such a “free city” was rare. On this basis, Strasbourg had an independent constitution that was considered highly democratic by the standards of the day.

A display of Jewish ritual objects on view in Strasbourg’s City Museum. Jews were expelled from the city in 1388. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

However, among those excluded from burgher status were servants, the poor and Jews, who were massacred in 1349, and after 1388, the survivors were denied the right to live in Strasbourg. The only activity Jews could lawfully engage in was usury (money lending), and certain trades. They could pursue these occupations in the city by day but had to leave in the evening. There is a moving display showing Jewish ritual objects (and as I had seen at the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, a collection of Jewish tombstones).

There is an excellent display about Gutenberg, who developed his printing process in Strasbourg between 1434 and 1444 (legend has it he was inspired by seeing a wine press), then returned to his hometown of Mainz where he published his first printed volume in 1454. Gutenberg’s technological revolution spread with lightning speed. In Strasbourg some dozen printing houses sprang up between 1460 and 1480. The first publications were religious books (bibles) , classical texts and calendars.

Johannes Gutenberg is said to have invented his printing press in Strasbourg, which became a major center for printing and publishing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The invention of printing, arbitrarily dated 1440, was celebrated in Mainz (as of 1837) and in Strasbourg, which raised the statue by David d’Angers honoring Gutenberg in 1840 (the statue we see today in Place de Gutenberg).

In the early days, printing was used to diffuse knowledge as well as criticism of the Church and of society in general. But authorities soon started printing decrees. In Strasbourg, the population was divided into six social classes – the first included servants and unmarried women; second class were day workers; third class were gardeners, and up to the sixth class, representing nobles, the Magistrate and jurists.

Laws promulgated by the municipality from 1531 onwards touched every aspect of life – religion, education, marriage, burial, use of inns, dress, begging, Jews, financial matters, games, behavior in the street, defamation, publishing.

One could say that the printing press enabled the “Rule of Law”.

Historical paintings of Strasbourg are on view in the City Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fascinating to travel through time – through the Imperial period, the French Revolution, the Commune, the back-and-forth between being part of France and the German Empire, World War I, World War II and Nazi occupation.

I learn that 22 Novembre – the name of a main boulevard where my hotel, the Hannong, is – was the date in 1918 when the French Army entered Strasbourg. “For President Poincare, the enthusiastic reaction of the population was equivalent to a plebiscite. French became compulsory in schools and the civil service. Strasbourg, the regional capital, had to re-adapt to the French system of departments. Religion, important in both educational and political terms, had to make concessions to the secular state.”

The extensive exhibits focused on the World War II period are intense.

In July1940, once Petain had signed the armistice, Alsatians were encouraged by the Vichy regime to return to their homes – exceptions were Jews, “Francophiles” and French civil servants (30% of the population) – their property was seized, and what followed was “Germanization” of the population (again, since Alsace had gone back and forth between Germany and France).

In November 1944, Strasbourg was liberated from the Germans by General LeClerc. Strasbourg was bombed by both Allies and by Germans after being liberated in 1944.

The European Union was founded in 1992 – three of its institutions are based in Strasbourg: the European Parliament, the European Mediator and the Schengen Information Service.

“A day will come when war will seem as absurd and as impossible between Paris and London, St. Petersburg and Berlin, Vienna and Turin, as today it would be impossible and seem absurd between Rouen and Amiens, Boston and Philadelphia,” Victor Hugo said in the inaugural speech at the Congress for Peace, Paris, August 21, 1849.

I don’t even remember how many hours I spent here – the displays are really captivating.

(Information and portal to collections: https://en.musees.strasbourg.eu/museums)

Strolling around the historic district of Strasbourg to take in the fabulous architecture and ambiance takes on new dimension after visiting the City’s museum of history © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

More information at https://www.strasbourg.info and https://www.visitstrasbourg.fr.

Next: Stepping into the Storybook that is Colmar

See also:

DISCOVERING STRASBOURG FRANCE’S CULTURAL RICHES

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Discovering Strasbourg France’s Cultural Riches

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, as seen through the windows of Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’ve come to Strasbourg, France, for a European Waterways canal cruise through the Alsace Lorraine on its luxury hotel barge, Panache. It is my practice now when connecting with a cruise or bike tour, to arrive at least a day early, especially when you have the opportunity to overnight in such a charming historic city as Strasbourg. That way I don’t have to worry about flight or weather delays and I can experience the destination in the morning and evening light, in peace and calm without the daytrippers, and have the time to really explore, discover and become immersed in its cultural riches.

The TGV train from Paris to Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The TGV train ride was absolutely gorgeous. (Less than two hours from Paris, you go from Charles de Gaulle Airport into the Gare de Nord, then take an easy 15 minute walk to Gare L’Est – glad I pre-purchased my train ticket and reserved seat on raileurope.com). It is surprising to see how soon out of the bustling metropolis you are in pastoral countryside. We whisk passed solar arrays, wind turbines, cows in pasture, and see traditional villages at the far end of fields. It’s cinematic.

Leaving Paris for Strasbourg by train, you are soon in the pastoral countryside © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And I still get into Strasbourg in the afternoon with plenty of time to explore.

There is much to experience in Strasbourg and I will actually have part of four days here. We will be picked up in Strasbourg on the first afternoon and taken to Krafft to board  the barge hotel, Panache, and actually cruise back into Strasbourg on its first full day when we will have a walking tour and overnight on the canal. I will have much of a full day again at the end of the cruise, when we are delivered back to Strasbourg from Niderviller, before I take the train to Paris. I do a calculation and decide on my only full day in Strasbourg, after exploring the old city in the early morning, to hop on the train for a 45-minute ride to see Colmar, and still get to enjoy Strasbourg’s beauty at night.

Hotel Hannong is perfectly situated, walking distance to Strasbourg’s historic sites © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must say I am clever about seeing Strasbourg, beginning with choosing a charming boutique hotel, the Hannong, which I find on hotels.com, right in the historic district and walking distance from the train station, so walking distance to everything I want to see, even walking back late at night. I am able to book a room ideal for a single person (it’s as big as a walk-in closet but has everything I need) for a very attractive rate. The pleasant stay, hospitable staff, and location add immeasurably to the way I experience Strasbourg and make the best of my time. (Hotel Hannong, 15, Rue du 22 Novembre,67000 Strasbourg, +33 03 88 32 16 22, hotel-hannong.com).

Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So when I arrive, I  find my way to the Hotel Hannong (I’m disoriented and finally find someone to point me in the right direction (I’ve already downloaded directions but I don’t have internet), I drop my bag and go off to immerse myself in the old city’s charm.

Strasbourg’s picturesque Le Petit France is a UNESCO Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s just a couple of blocks to where Le Petit France begins, and I wander the narrow cobblestone streets, over bridges over the River Ill, where every turn reveals a picturesque scene of quaint quays and colorfully timbered structures from the Middle Ages, reflected in the blue water. The River Ill, which divides into five arms, is what spurred the construction of mills and the installation of tanneries centuries ago.

The Tanners district in Strasbourg’s Le Petit France dates from 1572 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So charming and tranquil today, even with the crowds of tourists in midday, Le Petit France, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in its day would have been the stinkiest, filthiest, poorest part of town, inhabited by tanners, fishermen, and animals, but as you get closer and closer to fabulous Cathedral, the residences become nicer and fancier and is where the wealthiest merchants and officials would have lived.

Strasbourg’s picturesque Le Petit France is a UNESCO Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Strasbourg’s picturesque Le Petit France is a UNESCO Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come upon Place Gutenberg with a striking monument created by David d’Angers (1788-1856), erected in 1840. It commemorates that the German inventor Johannes Gutenberg developed moveable type that revolutionized access to the Bible, news, information, books, and even the law to the masses, while living in Strasbourg from 1430-1440, spawning an entire printing and publishing industry based in Strasbourg. The bronze statue stands on a granite base with four fascinating bronze relief panels that commemorate that Gutenberg came upon his idea for moveable type inspired by how a wine press worked, and how his invention influenced every corner of the globe.

The statue for Johannes Gutenberg in Strasbourg’s Place Gutenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the reliefs, “Detail of America,” depicts Benjamin Franklin and other signatories to the Declaration of Independence along with other famous liberators including General Lafayette and Simon Bolivar. Another, “Africa,” portrays Wilberforce and other abolitionists bringing freedom and enlightenment to the slaves. The third relief, “The Printing Press in Europe,” portrays important figures of the Enlightenment –  Erasmus, Chaucer, Milton, Molière, Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant and Schiller (the original plaster panel, which gave prominence to Martin Luther, caused an uproar, I learn).  The Asian panel is more weathered, but includes Brahmans exchanging manuscripts for books, and Chinese people reading Confucius

Strasbourg’s Guttenberg Plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In this plaza, there is also an old-timey Carrousel 1900 that is a delight in the day, enchanting at night.

A traditional Punch & Judy show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I get to St. Thomas Church, I come upon an outdoor Punch & Judy puppet show, which traces back to Commedia dell’arte tradition in Italy in the 1660s. (I’m not a fan of the too accurate re-creation of its traditional slapstick humor and the tragicomic misadventures of the characters but the kids love it.) 

Families enjoy the traditional Punch & Judy show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg

The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg dominates the city, in fact the entire region since it can be seen from great distances. Cathedral Square is a vibrant hub of musicians, vendors, and is ringed with some of the most important sites in the city – reminiscent of St. Marks Square in Venice. I will visit multiple times, and in the course of my visit, experience most of the important sites around the Cathedral. The streets that radiate from it are also full of colorful activity.

Chasing bubbles in Cathedral Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Construction of the Cathedral started in 1015, but came into its own as a monumental Gothic structure in the 1260s because of Erwin von Steinbach who designed the Cathedral to be the most modern building of its time in the whole of the Holy Roman Empire. It is still one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in the world. The hundreds of statues that decorate the Cathedral are incredible.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Finally finished in 1439, the Cathedral, built of pink sandstone from the Vosges, features a 142-meter-tall bell tower, making it the tallest medieval building in all of Europe.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is an imposing structure inside, as well, with 12th and 14th century Romanesque stained glass windows in mesmerizing geometric patterns. You can climb the 332 steps to the top of the bell tower for a spectacular view and explore an 11th century crypt below the main cathedral.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Saturday night, after I have rested a bit after coming back from Colmar, I stroll out of the hotel to Cathedral Square for the 10-minute Illuminations de la Cathedrale de Strasbourg, a free laser light show which begins nightly at 10 pm and runs continuously until midnight (in July and August). I find the neon colors jarring, but I love when the white fluttering strobe light gives the Cathedral a ghostly quality.

Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral during the Illumination © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Strasbourg, France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral during the Illumination © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame

Just across the square from The Cathedral is the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, an absolute must-see, where you walk through seven centuries of art in Strasbourg and the Upper Rhine. Its medieval and Renaissance collections show why Strasbourg is considered one of the most important artistic centers of the Germanic Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries.

At the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, you see up close the stunning artistry of original statues that decorated the Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the 13th century, the construction of Strasbourg Cathedral produced some of the most exceptional sculptures of the medieval world. Many of them – such as The Church and the Synagogue statues on the south portal, and the west façade’s Tempter and the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Virtues Crushing the Vices, and the Prophets – were removed from the edifice in the early 20th century to protect them from bad weather and pollution, and replaced by sandstone replicas. But here you see the original sculptures that decorated the Cathedral. To see them so close, life-sized, so you can really appreciate the artistry in a way you simply can’t by gazing up at the Cathedral, is astounding.

When I visit, the museum is featuring a virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms, videos and touch screens to situate the works where they had originally been set in the Cathedral.

In one grand room, I focus on the two sculptures known as “The Church and The Synagogue,” which I would not have known to look for, just walking about the Cathedral.

So much is embodied in these two statues, and why they were chosen: Positioned on either side of the south transept portal, the statutes of The Church and The Synagogue “each personify a covenant binding God to his people: the New Covenant of the Christian Gospel and the Old Covenant of the Jewish Torah, respectively,” the notes say.

Church Triumphant and The Synagogue Vanquished © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the left, the Church Triumphant, “wearing a crown and holding in her hands a chalice and a banner surmounted by the Cross, fixes her self-assured gaze on the Synagogue. The vanquished Synagogue, blindfolded and holding a broken lance, averts her head, expressing her inability to recognize the messiah in the person of Jesus. She appears to let fall the tablets of the Law of Moses, symbolizing the supplanting of the Old Testament. But the extreme humanity and beauty of the young woman’s features suggest an awaited revelation rather than the stigma of blindness” [as if to suggest, Jews will come into Christianity’s fold].

Now that I know where to look, later I go out to see the figures at the Cathedral.

Church Triumphant and The Synagogue Vanquished statues as they are position on the Cathedral’s south portal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In front of these two statues is a relief representing the biblical episode of “The Sacrifice of Isaac” at the hand of his father Abraham. The notes do not mention that this event for Jews, established the covenant with God and Jews as the “Chosen People”.

A relief depicting Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the statuary, there are incredible paintings, triptychs and religious art – some of the most magnificent in the world – as you walk from room to room, floor to floor.

Jewish tombstones on view at the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame. Jews were expelled from Strasbourg in 1349, during the Black Plague © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I follow an interior staircase all the way down and come to an interior courtyard in which tombstones rescued from a Jewish cemetery are displayed respectfully. The notes say that in 1349, Jews were expelled from Strasbourg because of Black Plague.

I climb the staircase to an attic room, where the innovations in architecture and engineering are explained. You also see some of the original architectural drawings of the Cathedral – the oldest architectural drawings of their type – as well as a video.

La Nativite de la Vierge. At the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, you see works that show why Strasbourg is considered one of the most important artistic centers of the Germanic Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
La Nativite de la Vierge. At the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, you see works that show why Strasbourg is considered one of the most important artistic centers of the Germanic Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum is housed within La Maison de L’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, which has been the home of the Foundation of the Oeuvre Notre-Dame (the body responsible for administering work on the Cathedral) since the Middle Ages. It is actually two buildings: a Gothic house with its crow-stepped gable (1347) and a Renaissance wing with a scroll gable (1582). Just walking through the rooms is an experience.

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame is actually in two buildings: a Gothic house with its crow-stepped gable (1347) and a Renaissance wing with a scroll gable (1582) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Fondation de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame (Our Holy Lady Work Foundation) was established in 1224 (!!) to improve the administration of donations and legacies for the construction of Strasbourg Cathedral. Every since construction ended, the Foundation has been in charge of restoration and conservation of the monument, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988.

Plan on spending several hours wandering around this museum (I actually did it twice).

Musee de L’Oeuvre Notre-Dame/Aarts Du Moyen Age, 3 place duChateau, Strasbourg.

From here, I walk across the square to see the Church and Synagogue portal, before walking back through Cathedral Square (which reminds me of St. Marks Square in Venice) to the fabulous Palais Rohan.

Ancient: La Maison Kammerzell, built in 1467, and converted to Renaissance style in 1589, boasts exquisite carvings, with secular and religious themes, After refurbishing, it became a restaurant celebrated for its lavish frescoes painted by Leo Schnug © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is so interesting (and fun) about Strasbourg is how the historic city seamlessly integrates – and respects – what is ancient and what is modern: the virtual reality in the Musee de L’Oeuvre Notre Dame, the neon laser lights that bathe The Cathedral for the nightly show, the modern art in Cathedral Square, the really modern art exhibit incorporated into the 18th century Royal Chambers of the Palais Rohan’s Decorative Arts Museum, the light rail that rings the Old City along cobblestone streets.

Modern: Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg’s historic district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So much to see, experience and appreciate. My exploration continues.

More information at https://www.strasbourg.info and https://www.visitstrasbourg.fr,

Next: Time Traveling Through Strasbourg

See also:

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS’ PANACHE HOTEL BARGE CRUISES FRANCE’S ALSACE-LORRAINE CANALS IN LUXURY

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSACE-LORRAINE CANAL CRUISE: STRASBOURG’S CATHEDRAL, WINE TASTING ON ROUTE DES VINS

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSATIAN CANAL CRUISE: MYSTERY OF THE NECKLACE IN SAVERNE, LALIQUE IN LUTZELBOURG

EUROPEAN WATERWAYS ALSACE-LORRAINE CANAL CRUISE: A BOAT GUILLOTINE, TWO TUNNELS AND A MONUMENTAL CHAGALL

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

4 Days in Paris: Wandering the Marais District Highlights Day 3

Paris’ Marais District is a colorful combination of the venerable and contemporary, trendy cafes, a mélange of architecture and street art, and historic, heritage and cultural sites © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the third and last full day of my stay in Paris, I could have planned a visit to Versailles, but I just want a day to wander without a plan. Still, I have on my list several places that I keep seeing street signs for in this fascinating Marais district where I have cleverly chosen a hotel.

Paris’ Marais District is a delightful mixture of venerable and contemporary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Marais District is a colorful combination of the venerable and contemporary, trendy cafes, a mélange of architecture and historic, heritage and cultural sites, all packed into a relatively small (walkable) area. It is particularly wonderful to wander because the narrow, winding streets are a bit of a maze, and you keep coming upon architectural jewels – even a medieval tower – that span the centuries, trendy cafes and shops, street art, and historic places, especially sites that recall that the Marais was once a Jewish neighborhood. The main thoroughfare is Rue Vielle du Temple, and another is Rue du Temple. I had already come upon the Memorial de la Shoah, and have yet to find the Square du Temple-Elie Wiesel, le Carreau du Temple, a former clothes market that was transformed into a cultural center in 2014, or the Jardin Anne Frank.

I go in search of Place des Vosges, described as the oldest public square in Paris and an “early urban planning marvel”.

Parvis des 260 Enfants is a reminder that Le Marais used to be a Jewish neighborhood © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get lost and instead come upon Parvis des 260 Enfants – a plaza where a marker recalls 260 Jewish school children were deported and murdered in the Holocaust. Behind a locked gate is the “Ecole Primaire Commudej Garcons Israelites Mode Mutuel.”

I finally find the Places des Vosges – which strikes me as reminiscent of Gramercy Park in Manhattan with townhouses all around. It was built for a king for jousting and festivals – the townhouses came later. It isn’t what I expected.

Places des Vosges is the oldest public square in Paris and an early urban planning marvel. One of the townhouses is now the Victor Hugo Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though I have on my mental wish list to visit the Victor Hugo Museum, I don’t realize that it is actually one of these townhouses on Places des Vosges. (Years ago, I actually visited Victor Hugo’s “home in exile” on the quaint Channel Island of Guernsey and found it fabulous). But I get distracted and forget to look for it when I leave the square.

This is a huge regret – “Discover the private world of Victor Hugo. Get to know the man, the visionary artist, the proactive thinker and, of course, the writer of genius,” the museum promises. The museum incorporates the apartment that Victor Hugo rented from 1832 to 1848 is located on the 2nd floor of 6, Place Royale (now Place des Vosges). Its layout takes you through his life by means of the furnishings, objects and works of art that he created himself, owned, or are related to his writing.

While living in this apartment, Hugo wrote some of his major works: Mary TudorRuy BlasLes Burgraves [The Commanders], Les Chants du crépuscule [Songs of Twilight], Les Voix intérieures [Inner Voices], Les Rayons et les Ombres [Beams and Shadows], a large part of Les Misérables, and the beginning of The Legend of the Ages and Contemplations.

The Marais District is full of surprises, like coming upon this medieval tower © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

More than the writer’s house, the Maison de Victor Hugo is an important museum with a collection of 50,000 works of art- paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints, photographs, objects, a library, and collection of manuscripts and archives, all bearing witness to the life and work of Victor Hugo.

(Booking in advance is not required but is recommended. Admission to the museum’s permanent collections is free; an admission is charged for special exhibitions.)

Maison de Victor Hugo, place des Vosges, 6 place des Vosges, 75004 Paris,
Phone : 
01 42 72 10 16; open 10-6, Tuesday-Sunday, https://www.maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr/en/paris/museum/visit-apartment-today

(Add to my regret: I discover too late that in the Marais district is an Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, celebrating the ground-breaking photographer and founder of Magnum and photography, at 79 Rue des Archives, 75003 Paris, www.henricartierbresson.org)

Musee Carnavalet

But leaving the Square in the opposite direction from Maison de Victor Hugo (why I didn’t see it), I happen upon the Musee Carnavalet, dedicated to recounting the history of Paris and its inhabitants. It is absolutely fabulous – for the story, the artifacts, the art it presents, and it answers the question I had been wondering about: how Paris, as fabulous a city as it is, came to be.

The Musee Carnavalet, housed in two exquisite historic mansions, is dedicated to recounting the history of Paris and its inhabitants. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum occupies two neighboring historic mansions: the Hôtel Carnavalet, was purchased by the Municipal Council of Paris in 1866 and opened to the public in 1880 (the oldest of Paris city museums); and the former Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau which was annexed and opened to the public in 1989. Both are exquisite.

The Musee Carnavalet, housed in two exquisite historic mansions, is dedicated to recounting the history of Paris and its inhabitants. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Carnavalet, which dates from the 16th century, contains stunning furnished rooms from different periods of Paris history, historic objects, and a huge collection of paintings of Paris life depicting the city’s history and development, as well as its notable characters. There is a huge collection of antiques and artifacts from the French Revolution that bring this era to life in your mind (I note a portrait of Ben Franklin); from the Second Republic of 1848, and the siege of the commune in 1870 (the era depicted in Hugo’s “Les Miserables”). The horror of the Nazi occupation is also represented.

Paintings arranged like a 19th century salon, at Musee Carnavalet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You come to  a grand room that looks like the 19th century art salons the painters would exhibit in, with its walls filled with works by artists including Joos Van Cleve, Frans Pourbus the Younger, Jacques-Louis David, Hippolyte Lecomte, and Simon-Auguste.

Dramatic historic paintings on view at Musee Carnavalet help tell the story of how Paris came to be © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“At the crossroads of archaeology and history, the decorative arts and fine arts, urban history and social anthropology, the museum provides the keys to understanding the history of this unique city-capital-metropolis.”

It houses both well-known masterpieces along with little known treasures that tell the complex story of Paris, from its origins to present day, spanning 8,500 years and holds a mind-boggling 625.000 objects, presented in 85 permanent exhibition rooms

You need to spend at least two hours here. (Tuesday-Sunday, 10-6)

Musée Carnavalet, 23 Rue de Sévigné, 75003 Paris, http://carnavalet.paris.fr/en

So much fun to get lost in the Marais District © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Carnavalet Museum, which proves a highlight of my Paris stay and the best reason for just wandering around, is one of the 14 City of Paris’s museums that have been incorporated since January 1, 2013, in the public institution Paris Musees. Others include: Catacombes de Paris, Crypte archéologique de l’Ile de la Cité, Maison de Balzac, Maison de Victor Hugo – Hauteville House (and in Guernsey), Petit Palais City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Musée Bourdelle, Musée Cernuschi, Museum of Asian Art, Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée Galliera, Museum of the General Leclerc and the Paris’ Liberation – Jean Moulin Museum, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Zadkine Museum

The Musée Picasso-Paris

The Musee Picasso-Paris boasts the world’s richest public collection on Picasso © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I set out next for the The Musée Picasso-Paris which is also in the Marais district – housed incongruously (considering Picasso’s art) in another classic historic mansion. The museum makes the claim to “the world’s richest public collection on Picasso” with 297 paintings, 368 sculptures and 3D works, 200,000 archived items, 92 illustrated books by Picasso. It also boasts a collection of 50 pieces of furniture by Diego Giacommetti.

The Musee Picasso-Paris boasts the world’s richest public collection on Picasso © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Musée National Picasso-Paris, 5 rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris, https://www.museepicassoparis.fr/en

Museum of Jewish Art & History

From the Picasso Museum, I find my way to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme (Museum of Jewish Art & History).

As I walk up Rue de Place Republic to Rue de Temple, I find a marker that says 76,000 Jews were deported by Nazis to concentration camps; 2000 returned. Among those who were deported were the residents of 71 Rue de Temple, a 17th century historic mansion which today houses the Jewish Museum (mahJ), and when you first go in, there is a sort of tribute to them. 

A statue of Dreyfus is in the courtyard at the entrance to the Museum of Jewish Art & History © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum traces Jewish artistic and cultural heritage, focusing on the history of the Jews in France since the Middle Ages to the 20th century, and evoking the communities of Europe and North Africa. Its collection, which it boasts is one of the finest in the world, comprises religious objects, manuscripts, textiles, and archival documents, such as concerning the Dreyfus Affair. (A statue of Dreyfus is in the courtyard at the entrance to the museum).

A painting by Marc Chagall on view at the Museum of Jewish Art & History © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Special emphasis is given to the Jewish presence in the arts. The museum’s collections include works of art from painters of the School of Paris, Marc Chagall, Kikoine Soutine and Amedeo Modigliani and contemporary artists such as Christian Boltanski and Sophie Calle.  

At the Museum of Jewish Art & History, art and religious ritual come together as in this historic shul © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I find the exhibit more about Jewish ritual objects and such, than it is about Jewish history, culture and art – but I am really at a disadvantage in understanding since there are no English translations.

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme,  Hôtel de Saint-Aignan, 71 Rue du Temple, 75003 Paris, France, https://www.mahj.org

Next I head toward the Place de la Bastille where the notorious Bastille prison once stood, until it was stormed and destroyed between 14 July 1789 and 14 July 1790 during the French Revolution. No vestige of the infamous prison remains. Instead, the July Column (Colonne de Juillet) commemorating the July Revolution (1830) at the center of the square and the Opera house.

The Place de la Bastille where the notorious Bastille prison once stood is nothing like I envision © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And while the square is now the site of concerts, cafes and nightclubs, it is also often the centerpiece for political demonstrations.

Another square, the Place Royale, which is close to my hotel, Le 20 Prieure Hotel, is also important for France’s history, but today is a place for skateboarders, misting station who seem to be completely unimpressed by the fabulous plaques, reliefs and inscriptions that decorate the statue at its center.

The Place Royale © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of these attractions are included in the Paris Museum Pass, http://en.parismuseumpass.com/ and Paris Pass (ParisPass.com).

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

For Olympics planning (and where you can purchase tickets that become available), https://www.paris2024.org/en/

Next: Day 4 in Paris: Montmartre

See also:

ROMANCE IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOTEL NAPOLEON IN PARIS, CITY OF LOVE

VISITING PARIS THIS YEAR? PLAN IN ADVANCE

4 DAYS IN PARIS: MUSEE D’ORSAY HIGHLIGHTS DAY 1

4 DAYS IN PARIS: LE LOUVRE HIGHLIGHTS DAY 2

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

4 Days in Paris: Le Louvre Highlights Day 2

Le Louvre is SOOO big, so famous and so very popular – in fact, the world’s largest art museum at 652,300 sq. ft., housing some 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Le Louvre is SOOO big, so famous and so very popular – in fact, the world’s largest art museum at 652,300 sq. ft., housing some 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century – the best strategy is simply to just surrender to it, go with the flow, and be surprised.

In 2018, the Louvre welcomed 10.2 million visitors, 3.5 million more than the Vatican Museums which is the second largest in Europe. The collection is valued at well over $35 billion plus another $10 billion for the building!  

Once the home to French Kings including Louis XIV, this monumental palace, Le Louvre was converted to a museum during the French Revolution in the late 18th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Once the home to French Kings including Louis XIV, this monumental palace began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under King Philip II. It was converted to a museum during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. (Hence my observation that such magnificent structures that make Paris so fabulous could only have been built by a monarchy, but opened to the public by a democracy.)

Once the home to French Kings including Louis XIV, this monumental palace, Le Louvre was converted to a museum during the French Revolution in the late 18th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The galleries span 15 acres, which is why, except for the Mona Lisa and some of the other majorly famous items, it is possible for 15,000 people a day to come through and you can still have some areas almost to yourself.

The grand lobby of Le Louvre is at the base of the glass pyramid © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is massive and overwhelming – like culture shock, really, especially after having visited the comparatively calm Musee D’Orsay the day before. The connecting rooms through three wings of the palace that surround the massive courtyard seem to go on and on and on.

Considering that it would take 100 days to see all the art in Le Louvre, I decide the best thing is to just go with the flow – and get the Mona Lisa out of the way – and then just wander and be surprised. (Besides the Mona Lisa, the other blockbuster attractions are Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory.)

It is also one of the most fabulous buildings you will ever have the chance to visit, and just going room by room (be sure to look up at the decorated ceilings), is thrilling.

I follow the signs –and the crowd – into the hall with the Mona Lisa, “La Gioconda.”

The scramble to see Leonard DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a bit of a jungle to make your way to the painting (they could have alleviated by putting up ropes that guide you along, like they do outside at the ticket counter, which would also give everyone their turn at seeing the painting from all angles). I move through the middle, row by row.

The sitter for the portrait is believed to be Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542) who lived in Florence, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy silk merchant. “Leonardo aimed to bring his portrait to life by depicting Lisa as if she were naturally turning to welcome us. Her upper body is in three-quarter view, but her gently smiling face is frontal,” a poster analyzing the painting notes.

I learn that Leonardo da Vinci used the afumato painting technique of applying multiple layers of pigments bound in oil to create subtle transitions from shadow to light, which is how he brought his model’s gentle smile to life.

DaVinci never finished “Mona Lisa” but took the painting with him everywhere until his final trip to France in 1516 at the invitation of King Francois I. The king bought the painting, which is how the “Mona Lisa” entered the French royal collection. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I also learn that the landscape is imaginery – “Leonardo mastered so-called ‘atmospheric perspective’ using different shades of blue to blur the outlines and give the scene a striking depth. A path on the left draws our gaze to mountains bordered by lakes. This wild majestic landscape suggests the slow formation of the Earth, the battle of the elements and the erosion caused by time.”

Leonardo began this partially experimental painting around 1503 and never finished it. Yet, it is intriguing to learn that he took it with him everywhere he went, until his final trip to France in 1516 at the invitation of King Francois I. The king bought the painting, which is how the “Mona Lisa” entered the French royal collection.

Monumental paintings at Le Louvre provide a record of history, or at least a version of it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Near to where you exit from Mona Lisa is a great hall lined with monumental historical paintings.

There is one where Emperor Napoleon is crowning the Empress Josephine. Another depicting Napoleon at the Battlefield of Eylau (9 February 1807), a battle Napoleon’s troops won against Russians and Prussians but paid a high price in lives.

Monumental paintings at Le Louvre provide a record of history, or at least a version of it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“For the purposes of propaganda, the artist Antoine Jean Gros (who painted it in 1808) depicted Napoleon as a compassionate conqueror ensuring aid for the wounded enemy soldiers. The zeal of the doctors and the emperor’s serenity temper the horrors of war.”

There is also Jacques-Louis David’s a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) painted when he was a young dashing fellow (1797-1798).

Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of a young Napoleon Bonaparte © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You realize that such paintings (as well as statues, busts, coins and stamps) were the only way people could record what someone looked like or a historic event (and therefore eminently exploitable for propaganda).

After getting the Mona Lisa under my belt, I just kind of wander, with no specific plan, just being surprised as I go through palatial rooms. (As a general rule, the further away from the Mona Lisa you get, the less crowded until you find rooms that you can have almost to yourself.)

As it happens, I practically fall upon another of Le Louvre’s famous statues, “The Winged Victory of Samothrace,” that graces the top of the monumental Daru staircase. Dating from 190 BC, “Winged Victory” is of major importance because it is one of the few surviving examples of original Hellenistic sculpture.

“The Winged Victory of Samothrace,” that graces the top of the monumental Daru staircase, dates from 190 BC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But at one point, I decide to search for the Venus de Milo – the third in the triumvirate of Le Louvre’s iconic works – get lost, and, instead, find myself amid Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman artifacts, instead (I never find Venus).

Just being in Le Louvre, housed in a fabulous palace built for kings, is thrilling enough, but coming upon the Code of Hammurabi, makes for an incomparable experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, I am stunned when I stumble upon the Code of Hammurabi – in fact, one of the most exciting works in the Louvre. This black stele of basalt stands over two meters high and is engraved with the earliest collection of written laws in human history. It was engraved in Babylon (today’s Iraq) around 1760 BC and recovered in 1901 in Susa (present-day Iran).  (The Ten Commandments is dated between 16th and 13th centuries BCE.)

The upper part of the stele depicts Hammurabi himself, symbolically receiving the laws from the sun god Shamash, the patron of Justice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hammurabi was the first sovereign who decided to convert rules formerly passed on through oral tradition into an actual code of laws. The upper part of the stele depicts Hammurabi himself, symbolically receiving the laws from the sun god Shamash, the patron of Justice. The lower part is the text documenting 282 laws. The most prominent (famous) is establishing the legal standard of retaliation – the right to inflict damage in equal measure on those who intentionally harmed you (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” though equality of punishment took into account the same social level), according to an article by Stefano Zuffi e Davide Tortorella (https://mywowo.net/en/france/paris/louvre-museum/hammurabi-stele-richelieu-wing-hall-3)

Le Louvre is a fabulous palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Le Louvre is really a palace – one of the grandest you have ever seen or have the opportunity to be in. Just walking through the galleries, so opulently decorated from floor to ceiling, the ornamentation is quite fabulous.

You need at least 4 hours to visit.

If your schedule allows and you book early enough, visit the Louvre Museum at night when the vibe is less frenetic and the famous pyramid is illuminated. (Wednesday and Friday, open until 9:45 pm.). Otherwise try to book a morning time as early as possible.

There are several ways to avoid waiting in a long line to get into the Louvre: purchase the Paris Museum Pass (you still must book a time slot in order to guarantee access into the museum; you provide the serial number of your Museum Pass, https://www.ticketlouvre.fr/louvre/b2c/index.cfm/pmpevent/eventCode/PMP, here); book a timed entry ticket online in advance at the official Louvre website, €17 (https://www.louvre.fr/en/visit/hours-admission); or take a tour (https://www.getyourguide.com/louvre-museum-l3224/). 

Le Louvre, https://www.louvre.fr/en/visit/.

All the bridges across the Seine become venues for “love locks” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ile de la Cite

I cross the Seine on the Pont Royale and walk along the Quai Voltaire to return to the Isle de Cite for another look at Notre-Dame Cathedral, hoping to see workmen on a Monday.

A photo exhibit documents the destruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as the reconstruction © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tragic fire in April 2019 destroyed so much of the iconic 860-year-old limestone and the latticework of ancient timbers that formed Notre-Dame’s attic, melted the roof’s lead sheath, and endangered the stability of the stone structure. The cathedral’s spire was sent crashing into the interior.  It has since been raised again, “one of the most visible and most potent symbols of the cathedral’s rebirth,” a newspaper account states.

There is an outstanding photo exhibit by photographer Tomas van Houtryve with notes documenting the dramatic story of Notre-Dame’s restoration.

“I trained with teams of rope technicians, perched on ancient stones above the abyss, to access the heights of the cathedral,” Photographer Tomas van Houtryve relates. “It felt more like being on an alpine expedition than in the center of Paris. Bit by bit, the technicians carefully removed debris and consolidated stones.”

Getting a glimpse of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While I am standing in front of this exhibit, I learn that Jean-Louis Georgelin, the French general in charge of Notre-Dame’s reconstruction, had died just three days before, on August 18, in a fall while trekking in the Pyrenees mountains; he was 74 years old.  Regarded as the architect of Notre-Dame’s rebirth, “The nation has lost one of its greatest soldiers,” President Emmanuel Macron said of him.

Getting a glimpse of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In an interview with the newspaper Le Monde in April, General Georgelin had insisted that “everything is being rethought.” Innovations include “cutting-edge” fire prevention technology like misting systems, thermal cameras and fire-resistant doors, as well as a recovery system to treat rainwater running off the lead roof before it goes into Paris’s sewers. “We are rebuilding Notre-Dame identically,” Georgelin had stated. “But we are building a 21st-century cathedral.”

Getting a glimpse of the reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wonder if this tragedy would also put a monkey wrench into the restoration efforts. So far, the plan is to reopen in December (it would have been a miracle to reopen in time for the Olympics this summer). But renovation work — especially on the exterior — will continue for years after the cathedral reopens for religious services and visitors (12 million used to visit every year).

There are signs that acknowledge and express gratitude to the worldwide community that has contributed to the restoration.

(Friends of Notre Dame publishes updates on the restoration: https://www.friendsofnotredamedeparis.org/)

Zone of the charming cafes on Ile Saint-Louis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From Île de la Cité, I cross Pont Saint-Louis to Île Saint-Louis – more of a residential neighborhood with pleasant boulangeries, quaint cafes and delightful ice cream shops, and find a small park overlooking the Seine to enjoy my ice cream.

Zone of the charming cafes on Ile Saint-Louis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a different Parisian experience, I had checked out my junior suite in the five-star boutique luxury historic Hotel Napoleon just steps away from the Arc de Triomphe in the tony 8th Arrondisement, and took an Uber to my hotel for the second part of my Paris visit, Le 20 Prieure Hotel, a modest but pleasant three star in the Marais district which I find on hotels.com (my booking includes breakfast).

Zone of the charming cafes on Ile Saint-Louis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here the Ile Saint-Louis, it’s a mostly straight shot walking across the bridge and up Rue Vielle du Temple Boulevard to my hotel, Le 20 Prieure Hotel (20 Rue du Grand Prieuré, 75011 Paris, https://www.hotel20prieure.com/en/) about two miles through the Marais District.

Today, Le Marais district is considered “trendy” with charming streets full of hip cafes, boutiques, and bookstores, Gay Pride flags and rainbow-painted crosswalks, and street art.

The Marais, though, was once a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, that still has the marks, remnants, and scars of being uprooted in the Holocaust.

Memorial de Shoah in the Marais district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come upon Allee Des Justes Parmi Les Nations, which I quickly realize borders the Shoah Memorial Center, a museum, information and research center on the history of the genocide of the Jews in World War II.

Allée des Justes at the Memorial de Shoah in the Marais district records the names of the righteous © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This 60 meter section of the rue Grenier sur l‘Eau was transformed into the ‘Allée des Justes’ 12 years ago, and refers back to the “Righteous Among the Nations,” a title awarded by the World Holocaust Center in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, to non-Jews who risked their lives during World War II by helping Jews to hide, flee or survive. The memorial lists the names of the French ‘Justes’ and the locations of their deeds. One side remembers the Jewish victims on the ‘Wall of Names’ and the other side, the “Wall of the Righteous,” the French rescuers of Jews. Since Yad Vashem still awards this title to people throughout the world each year, French names continue to be added. On January 1 2012 France counted 3.513 Justes. (The Netherland has 5,204, Poland has 6,339).

As I walk about the district, I note on schools and certain public institutions, France’s credo, “Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite” (so much better than America’s relatively recent motto, “In God We Trust” adopted in 1956 in reaction to Communism.)

On one building, there is also a plaque dated December 2001 which I translate, “Arrested by the police of the Vichy Government, complicit with the Nazi occupiers, more than 11,000 children were deported from France between 1942-1944 and sent to Auschwitz because they were Jews.”

There is a street sign pointing the way to the Museum of Jewish Art & History, and I put it on my list to visit.

Many of these attractions are included in the Paris Museum Pass, http://en.parismuseumpass.com/ and Paris Pass (ParisPass.com).

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

Next: Day 3 in the Marais

See also:

ROMANCE IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOTEL NAPOLEON IN PARIS, CITY OF LOVE

VISITING PARIS THIS YEAR? PLAN IN ADVANCE

4 DAYS IN PARIS: MUSEE D’ORSAY HIGHLIGHTS DAY 1

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

4 Days in Paris: Musee D’Orsay Highlights Day 1

The grand Musee D’Orsay, one of the most important museums in the world, is housed in a magnificent Beaux-Arts train station built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On my first morning in Paris, as I set out from the Hotel Napoleon just across from the Arc de Triomphe in the tony 8th Arrondisement, at 10 am for a beautiful walk down Champs-Elysee to Place de la Concorde, passed the Grand Palais, across the Seine, passed the National Assembly to my destination, the Musee d’Orsay, I am immediately under the city’s spell.

Paris is regal. Majestic. Monumental. The scale of the boulevards, the buildings, the structures. It is big and bustling, but curiously, you don’t feel choked or overwhelmed – probably because no structure is taller than the Eiffel Tower and you can see out, and because the city is designed around open spaces –the wide boulevards, gigantic plazas, parks, the Seine flowing through. There are places to sit, even water fountains and misting stations, while the smaller neighborhoods, with their narrow twisting roads, are quaint and quiet (little traffic).

The level of grandeur is breathtaking, and for a moment I am thinking that only a monarchy could have built this, a democracy never would have. But in the next, I am reminded that only the Revolution opened them for public purpose.

A view of Le Louvre. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, making strolling ideal.
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk everywhere and Paris makes it easy (and safe). Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, making strolling ideal. But for getting around, Paris is also a biking city with superb bike lanes, traffic signals (get preference over cars, in fact), and huge number of bike share stations.

It is helpful to have paper map, and not just rely on cell phone GPS (remember to download maps when you have WiFi so can access offline – I keep forgetting), but it is part of the joy of the travel experience to rely on the kindness of locals to point you in the right direction, even with limited French.

It is essential to plan your visit to Paris’ top museums and attractions in advance, and pre-purchase timed ticket, or book a time if you have the Paris Museum Pass (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/) or Paris Pass (parispass.com), and try to book as early a time as possible, or evening hours.

And though it is better to try to visit on weekdays, considering that the Musee D’Orsay is closed on Monday (I book my Le Louvre visit for that day), I pre-booked my visit for Sunday.

Musee d’Orsay

The grand Musee D’Orsay, one of the most important museums in the world, is housed in a magnificent Beaux-Arts train station built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

The Musee d’Orsay is housed in what had been a truly grand train station, a Beaux-Arts jewel built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. It is famous for its fabulous collection of French art from 1848 to 1914 – paintings, sculpture, furniture, photography – including the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world.

Here you can experience for yourself (in relative peace, mind you) the exquisite works of Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gaugain and Berthe Morisot – actually it seems just about all my favorite paintings by my favorite artists, as well as being introduced to outstanding works I am unfamiliar with.

The grand Musee D’Orsay, one of the most important museums in the world, famous for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists including Van Gogh, is housed in a magnificent Beaux-Arts train station built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The layout of the galleries is exquisite, and the views from the fifth floor gallery where the Van Goghs are displayed and from the Restaurant (you look through the massive clock to Sacre Coeur on Montmartre, like those scenes in the movie, “Hugo”) take your breath away.

The Musee D’Orsay makes for exquisite viewing of masterpieces © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though the Musee D’Orsay is one of the largest museums in the world and the second most popular to visit in France after Le Louvre, it doesn’t feel large or crowded or intimidating. The clever layout – a warren of smaller galleries off a main, open hall – makes it feel more intimate and calm, even as I stand in front of such a popular painting as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (I think this is the equivalent of the Mona Lisa in Le Louvre). The way you realize just how vast the museum is – at any time about 3,000 art pieces are on display – is by realizing you’ve been there for four hours. Time melts away, like the humongous clocks you get to see through to Paris’ magnificent skyscape.

View to Montmartre through the Musee D’Orsay clock© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum has 24 Van Goghs including such renowned works as L’ArlésienneBedroom in ArlesSelf Portrait, portrait of his friend Eugène BochThe SiestaThe Church at AuversView from the ChevetThe Italian WomanStarry NightPortrait of Dr. GachetDoctor Gachet’s Garden in AuversImperial Fritillaries in a Copper VaseSaint-Paul Asylum, Saint-RémySelf Portrait.

As popular as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is, you still get a moment almost to yourself to enjoy it, at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Van Gogh gallery on Level 5 has an added attraction: the most magnificent views across the Seine of Le Louvre to Montmartre from one set of windows, the Eiffel Tower from another.

View from the Van Gogh Gallery at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are 81 Renoirs including “The Swing” (significant when I visit the Musee de Montmartre and see the spot where he painted it!), and 18 by Toulouse-Lautrec, plus James McNeill Whistler’s famous “The Artist’s Mother’, better known as “Whistler’s Mother.”

As I go through galleries of portraits, I wonder whether the sitters contemplated becoming immortal, that their visages would be admired and their personas wondered about for centuries.

“A Street in Paris,” by Maximilien Luce shows the power of painting to document © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides seeing “in person” the art works that are among the most famous in the world (and it seems just about all my favorites), there are masterpieces by artists that may not be as “top of mind” to explore and discover as well. One, “A Street in Paris,” by Maximilien Luce, that is so haunting, depicting “Bloody Week” of May 21-28, 1871, and the brutal suppression of the Commune, a revolutionary movement that emerged from the political chaos after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the fall of the Second Empire, events immortalized in Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” and the musical “Les Mis” which Luce painted 30 years after the event that so affected Luce.

It is a further demonstration of the power of art to document history, events, and bring faraway places to people, especially before photography.

Thank goodness, the really excellent notes are presented in French and English (not so in many other places).

The atmosphere of the museum is like putting yourself into the canvas.

Restaurant at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the full-service restaurant, there is an absolutely delightful café in the lower level – reasonably priced and very comfortable, where I get refueled.

Towards the end of my visit, I find myself in a grand ballroom which feels weird.

Captivated by the clocks at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a feeling of complete joy of being in that space stays with you, that rushes back like warm water, even as I review my photos later.

Open from 9.30 am to 6 pm daily, except Mondays; late night on Thursdays until 9.45 pm

Musee D’Orsay, Esplanade Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, 75007 Paris, https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/

Ile de la Cite

From the Musee D’Orsay, I stroll down the quai along the Seine, with the marvelous book/magazine sellers, to the Pont Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris) to Île de la Cité, a small island in the center of Paris where Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle are found. It is the historic heart of Paris.

Colorful vintage magazine and newspaper sellers line the Quai © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am really interested to see the progress on the restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral, after that devastating fire of April 15, 2019.

There is an excellent photo exhibit by photographer Tomas van Houtryve with notes documenting the dramatic story of the restoration.

A photo exhibit explains the reconstruction project of Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A short walk from Notre-Dame, in a small park, I come upon Holocaust Memorial to the 31,000 Parisians sent to Auschwitz.

Holocaust Memorial near Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also close to Notre Dame on the Ile de Cite is Sainte-Chappelle, famous for its stained glass windows.

Sainte-Chapelle is considered one of the finest examples of Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. Built between 1238-1248, the royal chapel was commissioned by King Louis IX to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns – one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. It served as the residence of France’s kings until the 14th century.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A curious chart outside the chapel shows that Sainte-Chappelle cost 266,000 gold francs for the elevation of its spire and the restoration of the roof, equivalent to 1.06 million Euros, total weight 232.4 tons, 75 meters high from ground level, work done between 1853-1855.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Notre Dame Cathedral: cost 500,000 gold francs for the elevation of its spire, equivalent of 2 million euros today; total weight 750 tons, 96 meter high from ground, work from 1859 to 1860.

Adjacent to Sainte-Chapelle is La Conciergerie, the palace where Marie-Antoinette was held before her execution (it’s closed by the time I arrive).

Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie are operated as a museum by the French Centre of National Monuments.

La Sainte Chapelle, https://www.sainte-chapelle.fr

I pick up food for my dinner at a boulangerie on the quai.

Tuileries Garden, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon, I stroll alongside the full length of Le Louvre museum – once a palace – stunned by how large, and how exquisitely ordained it is (I will be visiting the next day), through Tuileries Garden to the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, where King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre were executed by guillotine during the French Revolution.

Place de la Concorde, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk by the Petit Palais (where there is a Sarah Bernhardt exhibit I wish I could have seen; free admission to the collections!), to the Champs-Élysées. (There is really good signage that direct you to the places visitors most want to see.)

Petit Palais, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eiffel Tower

I get back to the Hotel Napoleon and rest awhile before heading out again to see the Eiffel Tower at night.

I walk down the Champs Elysee, cross over toward the Seine and take in the classic café scene. There are innumerable couples in this City of Love.

Café George V, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The view from across the Seine – with the Bateaux Mouches (sightseeing boats) passing by – is enchanting enough, but seeing the Tower from its base is breathtaking.

View of Eiffel Tower across the Seine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Eiffel Tower is one of most beautiful structures in world – so elegant, so graceful, seemingly as light, delicate and intricate as filigree. I am surprised to learn that the design was criticized, even ridiculed when Gustave Eiffel, the engineer whose company designed and built the tower from 1887 to 1889, proposed it.

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nicknamed “La dame de fer” (“Iron Lady”), it was constructed as the centerpiece of the 1889 World’s Fair, and to crown the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution. (The tower also was supposed to be a temporary installation, but Eiffel pushed to have its lease extended and ultimately, became a permanent fixture of the city.)

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We marvel at its beauty but in 1889, the tower was celebrated more as a historic feat of engineering: the first structure in the world to surpass both the 200-meter and 300-meter marks in height. At 330 meters (1,083 ft.) high, the Eiffel Tower is equivalent to an 81-storey building, and still is the tallest structure in Paris, dominating the skyline from wherever you are. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until dethroned by New York City’s Chrysler Building in 1930.

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tower has three levels that visitors can reach, with restaurants on the first two. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m (906 ft) above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union.

It is fascinating to learn that the top level was actually a private apartment built for Gustave Eiffel’s personal use, which he decorated with furniture by Jean Lachaise and invited friends such as American inventor Thomas Edison. Today, you can’t visit the entire apartment, but there is a reconstruction of Gustave Eiffel’s office. Through the windows, you can see wax figures of Gustave Eiffel and his daughter Claire being visited by Edison.  

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also a new immersive experience that takes you inside Gustave Eiffel’s office (accessed by scanning a QR code on the first floor). While waiting for the lift on the first floor, you can also peruse historical documents with monitors, tactile screens, display cases, digital albums and photocopies of objects.

There are also new guided tours which must be booked online

The Eiffel Tower is one of the highlights of visiting Paris – in fact, one of the most-visited pay-to-enter monuments in the world, with almost 6 million visitors a year. It is almost essential to book a timed ticket ahead of time.

The wait for tickets – if they are not totally sold out – can be long. If you have interest in going to the top, book your tickets as soon as you know your dates for Paris. (Online tickets go on sale 60 days in advance for the elevator.) 

But for a completely different experience (and if tickets for the elevator are sold out), you can also climb the stairs – from ground level to the first level is over 374 steps, and 300 more to the second, making the entire ascent 674 steps – about 20 minutes per level.

Stairway tickets for the second floor are sold online (up to 10 days in advance) or sold on-site. If you want to go to the top, you would need to purchase “stairway + lift” tickets. These tickets are only sold on-site in the South leg of the tower, guaranteeing minimal queueing times (only the most gung-ho visitors), where you take the stairs up. In peak periods, another leg may be opened for stairway ascents.

Other experiences: Madame Brasserie offers a lunch and dinner menu on the first floor (reservations strongly advised; the reservation includes the ascent to the 1st floor of the Eiffel Tower, but not to visit to the 2nd floor or to the top).

Reservations for dining or eating at the Jules Verne (2nd floor) must be made on the dedicated website. If you make a reservation for the Jules Verne, a private lift in the south pillar will take you directly to the restaurant when you arrive. The visit of the Eiffel tower is not included.

You can book your ticket for the top of the Eiffel Tower and add a glass of champagne at the champagne bar. The champagne bar at the top is open every day, from 10.30 am to 10.30 pm. 

I would say the most enchanting time to experience the Eiffel Tower is at night.

Eiffel Tour, Champ de Mars, 5 Av. Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France, https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/planning-smooth-visit, https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/rates-opening-times

I stand in a park at the tower’s base, where there is a festive atmosphere among the throngs of people gathered – but for the Olympics, there will be a stadium built in front of the tower, before walking back to the Hotel Napoleon.

What a day – I must have walked 12 miles plus 3 hours worth in the museum. Here’s where I went:

Musee D’Orsay

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Sainte-Chapelle

Tuileries Garden

Place de Concorde

Champs-Elysee

Eiffel Tower at night

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

Next: Day2 Highlighted by Le Louvre

See also:

ROMANCE IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOTEL NAPOLEON IN PARIS, CITY OF LOVE

VISITING PARIS THIS YEAR? PLAN IN ADVANCE

_______________________

© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Visiting Paris This Year? Plan in Advance

If you have a hope of seeing the Mona Lisa at Le Louvre, book your timed ticket as soon as you book your travel to Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are planning to visit Paris his year, it is especially important to make plans really early, lock in reservations to visit the sites, attractions, restaurants, hotels, even train or bus transportation you most want to include if you are going outside Paris.

Paris (with 85,000 hotel rooms) is expecting about 15 million visitors as it hosts the Olympics (July 26-August 11) and Paralympics (August 28-Sept. 8. Other events to keep in mind: Tour de France, from June 29 to July 21; and Tour de France Femmes, from August 12 to 18.

The fact is, Paris is so popular (for good reason), there is no longer the “shoulder” season or “off season” (especially as more travelers seek the comparative comfort of cooler seasons, known as “coolcationing”). No matter when you travel, to get the most out of your visit, it is essential to do pre-planning. The days of just strolling into the major attractions are well gone, so advance purchase of timed- and capacity-controlled tickets will still be essential. Book online as soon as you know your dates of travel. In that way, you can avoid wasting valuable time and money waiting on line for tickets (followed by the line for security). Moreover, having a set time to visit the key attraction on your list will help you structure your day – while still allowing for serendipitous experiences and discoveries.

I must admit that my decision to spend four days in Paris at the end of my European Waterways canal boat cruise in the Alsace-Lorraine was a bit spontaneous and I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to do the research and preparation which I am recommending here. (So I didn’t get to go up the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower.) And planning out my visit for a city as big (and yet, as I found, not so big that I couldn’t walk everywhere), with as many highlights, was intimidating from a logistics point of view. So I began as I would hope other travelers do: I consulted what other travel writers have written about “four days” in Paris, and checked the various lists of “top attractions” like on tripadvisor.com.

Listen, while most travel writers will focus on the “off the beaten track” and “hidden gems” and “local favorites,” if, like me, you haven’t been to Paris in eons or ever, you want to experience what everyone else is talking about. They are the top attractions for a reason. But by preparing in advance in order to reduce wasting time waiting on lines, you will (I guarantee) have those serendipitous discoveries of “hidden gems” and “less known” that you can then boast discovering.

I had my list of top attractions, but how to organize in the best way?

Book your tickets to Musee D’Orsay in Paris in order to have more time to really enjoy the spectacular art collection, housed in this former Beaux Arts train station, in relative calm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I started with figuring out the priority attractions – Le Louvre, Musee D’Orsay – that would require advance, timed tickets, and made each of them the centerpiece of a day. Musee D’Orsay is closed on Monday; Le Louvre is closed on Tuesday. Then I looked to what was around, but much of how I spent my day after was pretty spontaneous.

The city was hopping with visitors this year – as tourism recovered globally after pandemic closures and it seems the world decided never to put off again their dream destinations. I visited in late August, a very busy time in any year, and the city is already preparing for the Olympics (I happened upon a city-wide practice run for security street closures.)

And most surprising to me, was how easy it is to get around Paris – especially walking and by bicycle (with loads of bicycle share stations), with its special biking lanes and traffic signals, and traffic signals and crossings that favor pedestrians. For those who prefer, the superb metro and bus system has multi-day tickets.

I walked everywhere – because it is the whole of Paris that is the attraction – the architecture, the people, the street activity, and the sheer beauty of the city, absolutely one of the most beautiful, enchanting in the world. And not just around the stunning sites of the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Notre Dame (which you can see as it is restored), but neighborhoods that are so picturesque, interesting, and full of character. So I plot the walking time into my day.

It is thrilling to watch the progress of the restoration project at Notre Dame © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But walking around, is the best way to come upon those “hidden gems” that no one else knows about. You have a cascade of serendipitous experiences, compelling places and surprises around every corner. It’s like surrendering yourself to the universe, or in this case, the city, and let it find you. And sometimes, when you set out in search for something, all these other things emerge.

(GPS is only helpful when you already have internet, but you should plot your route and then download so you have the maps offline or at least download the Paris map, which I kept forgetting to do, so I often relied on actual maps and the kindness of wonderful strangers, even with my very limited French, to point me in the right direction.)

During my four days in Paris, I visited:

Arrival afternoon:

Arc de Triomphe

Stroll the quais along the Seine for the magnificent views of Eiffel Tower at sunset into the night

Day 1: (Sunday)

Musee D’Orsay

Isle de la Cite (to see the restoration of Notre Dame)

Sainte-Chappelle

Tuileries Gardens

Place de la Concorde

Stroll the quai along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower at night

*

Day 2 (Monday)

Le Louvre

Notre Dame (again)

Isle de France

Marais District/Holocaust Memorial

*

Day 3 (Tuesday)

Marais District/Holocaust memorials

Place des Vosges

Museum of Paris History (a highlight)

Musee d’Art D’Histoire du Judaism

Musee Picasso-Paris

Bastille monument

Place Royale

*

Day 4 (Wednesday)

Montmartre

Musee Montmartre

Dali Gallery

Sacre Coeur

(Not on my list: Versailles, which I visited many years ago but any first-timer should visit)

And here are my regrets at having missed out: Victor Hugo’s House (turns out I was right there but didn’t know to look); Petit Palais which has marvelous exhibits (couldn’t time it right); the Crype Archeologique de L’Ile de la Cite (right beside the Notre Dame, but I never time it right to visit); and Catacombs (intriguing!). And yes, I regret not climbing the stairs up the Eiffel Tower (didn’t realize you can get that ticket on the spot) and seeing the museum and climbing inside the Arc de Triomphe

Yes, these are the most popular sites, but they are popular for very good reason, and if you are not a frequent visitor to Paris, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to experience them yourself. But there are ways to make the experience your own. Your list of “highlights” might be different – like the bateaux mouches cruise on the Seine (included in the Paris attractions pass).

Try to book your visit to Le Louvre either early in the morning or on one of the evenings the museum is open late © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I highly recommend getting the Paris Museum Pass (https://www.parismuseumpass.fr/t-en, which provides admissions to 34 museums in Paris and 11 more in the region) or the Paris Pass (parispass.com) which not only makes attractions and experiences more affordable, but will absolutely add to what you see and do, and also provides such helpful information as hours, location, proximity to where you are. When booking, try to book the earliest available times or evening times, and midweek over weekend.

You are likely to arrive in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which has easy train connection to downtown – purchase your metro ticket in advance at a wonderful visitor information office as you walk out, and even a multi-day ticket. This will cut down on wasted time waiting on line to buy a ticket and the confusion of knowing what zone you need. And it saves quite a lot of money. But the best part is you don’t think about how much you are spending – it all seems free.

If you are traveling in France, remember to book your train or bus tickets in advance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Coming from Strasbourg by train at the end of my six-day canal cruise of the Alsace Lorraine aboard European Waterways’ Panache, I arrived at Gard d’Est and made my way on the metro (after going in the wrong direction on the metro) to a stop just in front of the Arc de Triomphe. My hotel, the Hotel Napoleon Paris, a five-star boutique hotel which put me perfectly into the atmosphere of Napoleon’s Empire period, is not even a half-block away, and one boulevard over from the magnificent Champs Elysee. (Note: book train tickets in advance, www.raileurope.com)

It was afternoon, and I quickly checked in to this charming boutique hotel, dropped my bag, and went out to explore the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

Visitors along the Champs-Elysee on their way to the Arc de Triomphe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This iconic symbol of France is set in the middle of a roundabout (the Place D’Etoile, like a star”) where 12 busy boulevards converge, including the magnificent Champs Elysee which is aligned with its center. Don’t even think about trying to cross the roundabout – you must walk through underground passageways to get across the busy boulevards that encircle the monument (There’s a pedestrian tunnel at Place Charles de Gaulle on the north side of the Champs-Élysées that will take you down to the arch.)

Don’t even think about trying to walk across the roundabout encircling the Arc de Triomphe. Use the underground walkways © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Building the Arc de Triomphe began in 1806 on Napoleon’s orders. Just a year earlier, in 1805, Napoleon’s forces won a decisive victory over Russian and Austrian troops at the Battle of Austerlitz. French architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin took his inspiration from the great arches of the world and designed Triomphe to be the largest in the world. The arch is 164 feet tall, and twice a year, the sun sets directly in the center. It took 30 years to complete the arch which was officially opened by King Louis-Phillipe on July 29, 1836.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the years since, soldiers have marched past the arch as a victory lap – France and its allies did in 1918, 1944 and 1945; Germany in 1871 and  1940. Every year, a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, buried below the arch, marks the anniversary of the armistice signed on Nov. 11, 1918.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today, the Arc de Triomphe is more of a symbol of peace and is very recognizable as the end point for the Tour de France cyclists. For the French, the Arc de Triomphe goes well beyond being commemorative, but is foundational in the French national psyche.

Each day at the Arc de Triomphe, there is a ceremony to honor France’s fallen soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1921 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was incorporated into the monument, and today the tomb’s flame is rekindled every evening at 6.30 p.m. to show respect for All of France’s fallen.

One such event was just winding up as I arrived.

The Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of the French people’s national pride © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was transfixed by the arch, the spectacular bas-reliefs of historic events that grace each pillar – The Entry of Napoleon, The Conquest of Alexandria and The Battle of Austerlitz. The most famous of them, The Departure of the Volunteers, also known as La Marseillaise, was created by the Romantic sculptor François Rude in 1792. The others were crafted by two other sculptors, Antoine Etex and Jean-Pierre Cortot Plaques list the names of hundreds of generals and battles.

Stunning reliefs decorate the Arc de Triomphe, recalling France’s history  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Admittedly, I didn’t know that you could enter the monument and climb the 284 steps to to the terrace (an elevator is available for those who require it) for a view, or that there is a museum inside – The Permanent ‘Great Moments of French History’ exhibition which traces the story of the Arc de Triomphe and explains the architecture, friezes and sculptures. So I definitely did not book tickets in advance. But the line to purchase tickets was ridiculous so I happily contented myself to just study the stunning reliefs and be transfixed by the arch’s form. (Having a Paris Museum Pass would have provided free admission without the need to reserve a time.)

Stunning reliefs decorate the Arc de Triomphe, recalling France’s history  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I missed though was the dramatic view from the top: looking down the Champs-Élysées to the Louvre, out to La Defense, around to the Eiffel Tower. And you look straight down at one of the world’s largest round-abouts, where the 12 avenues come together.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can purchase tickets in advance; the Arch is also included on the Paris Museum Pass http://en.parismuseumpass.com/

I continued my walk well into the evening, following the route the concierge at the Hotel Napoleon laid out for me: strolling down the Champs Elysee, turning onto the Avenue George V (and passed the famous Hotel George V), to the Seine.

Paris is truly magical, truly the City of Light and romance. Couples walk along the quai, attach a lock to just about any wrought iron they can find, pose for a selfie.

That first view of the Eiffel Tower at night, reflected in the Seine, is breathtaking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That first view of the Eiffel tower from across the Seine, the bateaux mouches sailing by (I’m seeing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in “Charade”) as the sky takes on the rosy tones of sunset, fills you with a giddiness that can be described as joie de vivre. By the time I headed back along the quai, passing couples in amorous embraces, night has descended and the views of the lighted tower, bridges, and reflections on the river take your breath away.

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon on a tony residential street just off the Champs Elysee, I felt more like I am going back to my swank Parisian apartment rather than a hotel. I get another view of the Arc de Triomphe as I turn the corner.

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon Paris at night, you get a view of the Arc de Triomphe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hôtel Napoléon Paris 5,40, av. de Friedland 75008 Paris, Direct phone   +33156684480, www.hotelnapoleon.com, https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-napoleon-paris/, https://preferredhotels.com/hotels/france/hotel-napoleon-paris

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

For Olympics planning (and where you can purchase tickets that become available), https://www.paris2024.org/en/

Next: Musee D’Orsay Highlights Day 2 in Paris

See also:

ROMANCE IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOTEL NAPOLEON IN PARIS, CITY OF LOVE

_______________________

© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players Keep These Popular Masterpieces of Musical Theater Alive

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players take their bow at the end of this season’s “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players company is one of New York City’s cultural treasures and fortunately, many outside the Big Apple will also have the opportunity to revel in the company’s artistry and talent as it finishes its stellar production of “The Mikado” and begins its annual road tour, this season featuring “The Pirates of Penzeance.”

Now in its 49th year, this extremely talented and creative company NYGASP, which is based out of the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, has been hailed as “the leading custodian of the G&S classics” and has created its own special niche in the cultural mosaic of New York City and the nation. NYGASP’s mission is “giving vitality to the living legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan,” says the company’s Founder/Artistic Director/General Manager Albert Bergeret.

Bergeret typically hosts a preview and introduction during a series, typically before a performance geared to families.

The new/ updated NYGASP production of The Mikado premiered in NYC in late 2016, features an original prologue that introduces the audience to the real life characters of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company who originated The Mikado in 1885 London. The production centers the fantastic elements of juxtaposing a Victorian world with an imagined Japanese setting allowing the opera to be a truly inclusive experience for all audiences and artists. 

The show abounds with absurdity and astounding wit, clever wordplay, memorable tunes and endearing characters, performed to perfection by clever patter man David Macaluso as Sullivan and Ko-Ko (who brings extraordinary physical comedy and a sweet voice); blustering Matthew Wages who plays Richard D’Oyly Carte and pompous Pooh-Bah; creative David Auxier as author Gilbert and town leader Pish-Tush (who also authored the new Prologue and is the director, and choreographer); charming John Charles McLaughlin as romantic hero Nanki-Poo, rising star Hannah Holmes as lovelorn and overbearing Katisha; beautiful soprano Rebecca L. Hargrove  as self-aware Yum Yum;  Sarah Hutchison as maiden sister Peep-Bo; mellifluous mezzo Elisabeth Cernadas as adventurous Pitti-Sing; and dynamic bass David Wannen in the title role. 

The brilliant ensemble is rounded out by Caitlin Borek, Camilo Estrada, Chris-Ian Sanchez, James Mills, Katie Hall, Abby Kurth, Lance Olds, Logan Pitts, Maurio Hines, Michael Galante, Michelle Seipel, Sabrina Lopez, Viet Vo and Alexandra Imbrosci-Viera.

To their artistry and talent they exude a joy of performance.

The production showcases gorgeous scenery designed by Anshuman Bhatia, clever and inventive costumes by Quinto Ott and lighting by Benjamin WeillThe Mikado is produced by NYGASP Executive Director David Wannen. Founder and Artistic Director Albert Bergeret,sharing the podium with Associate Conductor, Joseph Rubin conducting the 25-piece orchestra.

NYGASP’s brilliant re-creation of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic, “Mikado,” was first introduced in 2016, aimed at exorcizing the production of offensive stereotypes that might offend Asians that were embedded in the 1885 original. “It is a balancing act to respect the original but take out what people considered offensive,” Bergeret says.

A specially created “prologue” and creative costuming ensure there is no confusion that “Mikado” represents Englishmen satirizing Victorian society and politics, capitalizing on British fascination with all things Japanese in the 1880s, to defuse the pointed references that might have gotten Gilbert & Sullivan (already under censorship of Lord Chamberlain) into trouble. And frankly, the depiction of The Mikado (who doesn’t even appear for the first 2 ½ hours of the three-hour show) as a cruel but ridiculous tyrant is reminiscent of how the Red Queen is depicted in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865). If anything, the Mikado’s character may resonate in 2024 more than in 2015 or even 1885.

The clever Prologue. authored by the director, choreographer David Auxier-Loyala takes place on June 6, 1884 – one day after their “Princess Ida” opened, brings together D’Oyly Carte, the actual producer, with Arthur Sullivan, the composer and W.S. Gilbert, the lyricist and author (played by David Auxier), and has them talking about the Japanese exhibition that is all the stir in London. D’Oyly Carte is pushing them to come up with their next musical, and in their verbal interplay, these fanciful interjections become the fanciful names for characters – Pish-Tush, Pooh-Bah – and suggest plot points. Gilbert “dreams” the performance of “Mikado” – he becomes Pish-Tush, a Noble Lord; Sullivan becomes Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, and D’Oyly Carte becomes Pooh-Bah (“the Lord High Everything Else”).

Of course British audiences of 1885 could have cared less about “political correctness.” The object of Gilbert & Sullivan’s satire was British society

Before the “Family” performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado,” Music Director/Conductor Albert Bergeret, who founded NYGASP 49 years ago, accompanied by David Macaluso (Ko-Ko) and Hannah Holmes (Katishaw) give a playful explanation of the show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We take advantage of seeing January 13 afternoon “Family performance”, which features a before-show talk introducing the plot and music presented by the esteemed Conductor and Musical Director Albert Bergeret, who founded the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 49 years ago (and was the original Nanki-Poo), I learn that my comparison of “Mikado” for Gilbert & Sullivan to “Madame Butterfly” by Puccini is not entirely unfounded. While the music that Sullivan composed runs the gamut of British musical styles (ballad, madrigal, march), he incorporates the Japanese five-note scale and an actual Japanese folk song, Miya-sama (though for this production, new English lyrics are substituted for the Japanese) – music which Puccini also appropriates in “Madame Butterfly.” (Miya-sama was not used in this production.)

“We took out what’s incomprehensible or inappropriate,” Bergeret says, who adds that Sullivan was a brilliant, classically trained musician who was well versed in all genres of music and composers from around the world. In “Mikado” Sullivan demonstrates his virtuosity in writing in many different forms.

Just as Gilbert incorporated contemporaneous digs, so too does this Ko-Ko, a “cheap tailor” (which means he made clothes for common people) taken from the county jail where he was scheduled to be executed (for flirting), and elevated to Lord High Executioner, update his “List” of those who shan’t be missed, to be as current as yesterday’s tweet, sometimes changing it each performance, surprising even the rest of the cast.

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.comIn an earlier season, David Macaluso (Ko-Ko) hosts audience members on a backstage tour of the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, homebase for the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During our performance, Ko-Ko, brilliantly played by David Macaluso, who is not only brilliant at patter but physical comedy, inserts digs at A.I. and the “plagiarist” that got him on the list, and natural gas which somehow puts the “environmentalist” also on that long, long list as the scroll unfurls.

And The Mikado’s updated long list of who to punish and how, includes the Instagrammer “made to endure a dungeon cell without not one cellular bar” and “political pundits, who must sail for weeks on a boat full of leaks on a sea of alternative facts.” (That gets tremendous laughs.)

But Bergeret notes they do not want to do too much contemporizing. “We are proud to share this production, which upholds The Mikado’s musical score, setting, characters, storytelling, themes, and most of all its universal satire of human nature.”

So, the Mikado looks to execute Ko-Ko (the Lord High Executioner), Pooh-Bah (the “Lord High Everything” and Pitti-Sing (one of the “three little maids from school” for carrying out the Mikado’s orders to execute Somebody and unwittingly execute the Mikado’s son and heir to the throne, Nanki-Poo. The Mikado appreciates their effort (he only wishes he could have witnessed the execution) but insists they still should be executed for, well, killing the heir and looks for the entertainment value in their lingering death.

The Mikado justifies executing the three because, after all, this is an unfair world where the virtuous suffer and the undeserving succeed. This leads to the song that probably best sums up the moral of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado,” in which the three condemned sing, “See how the Fates their gifts allot/For A is happy, B is not/Yet B is worthy, I dare say/Of more prosperity than A…If I were Fortune which I’m not/B should enjoy A’s happy lot/And A should die in misery/That is, assuming I am B.”

In the end The Mikado is less a jab at all-powerful monarchal misrule, than a comic contemplation of what human beings do when in faced with existential situation. Their focus is on human nature and the human condition. In Mikado, we see self-preservation – even by Yum-Yum who is willing to marry Nanki-Poo who loves her so much he is willing to be executed after just a month, until she realizes that as the wife of an executed man, she would be buried alive.

This production makes another change at the end, stopping the show for a return to the Gilbert & Sullivan characters trying to figure out an ending that would not rely on a magical or fantastical device like the “magic lozenge” they used in their 1877 opera “The Sorcerer” and almost breaks up their collaboration. (Gilbert finally gets to use the device in “The Mountebanks,” written with Alfred Cellier in 1892). Instead, Gilbert comes up with an argument that actually makes sense given the circumstance: Any order by the Mikado must be carried out, so having given the order, it must have been carried out (not much more absurd than “Anything the President does is legal and immune from prosecution, even if he orders Seal 6 to kill his political opponent.”).

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players perform the joyful finale of “Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu” – the ninth of Gilbert & Sullivan’s 14 collaborations – was immensely popular when it opened on March 14 1885 in London, running for 672 performances, the second longest run for any musical theater production. By the end of 1885, some 150 companies in Europe and America were performing the operetta. It even was widely performed in Japan (apparently they took no offense).

Indeed, “The Mikado” is one of the most popular productions of musical theater of all time. Performed for the last 135 years – by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, NYGASP and others including Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park festival – there were decades when “Mikado” was being performed somewhere in the English speaking world any day of the year. Some of its word inventions have entered the lexicon, such as “the grand Poo-Bah” and “Let the punishment fit the crime.” They have also been performed in languages including Yiddish and French, though Bergeret notes that the French don’t seem to get the jokes.

G&S were very popular in their own time – all their 14 shows were popular and “Mikado” was one of most popular written out of their 14 (one, “Thespis,” was lost). Their nods to classical and digs at British society and conventions and their union of witty lyrics and lyrical music, appealed to high and low class. Both wrote with others but were never so successful as when they collaborated together. “They were very different characters – Sullivan was a lady’s man” – aspects that come through in the specially written “Prologue” to Mikado.

“The only one who doesn’t like Gilbert was Queen Victoria, Bergeret tells us. “We are not amused,” Queen Victoria once commented. The Queen knighted Sullivan as the “savior of English classical music.” (Her son, King Edward VII, knighted Gilbert.)

Gilbert & Sullivan actually invented musical theater. At the time Gilbert & Sullivan were writing, there were opera, light opera and music hall theatricals, but nothing like a musical show with story – music that had both class and pop – with real story lines, music advanced the story, Bergeret tells us. This is where musical theater started,. Watching “Mikado” you see a straight line to Rogers & Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim.

Since its founding in 1974, the company has presented over 3,000 performances of the G&S masterpieces throughout the United States, Canada, and the U.K. delighting audiences of all ages.

The company’s celebrated ensemble of G&S experts, developed by introducing new singers each year from New York’s immense pool of vocal and theatrical talent, has collaborated with such guest artists as world-renowned G&S exponent the late John Reed, O.B.E. in numerous comic baritone roles, Tony winner John Rubinstein and Frank Gorshin both as King Gama in Princess Ida, John Astin as Sir Joseph in H.M.S. Pinafore, Hal Linden and Noel Harrison as the Major General in The Pirates of Penzance, Pat Carroll as Little Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore, and Steve Allen as The Mikado.

The company’s repertory consists of 13 complete G&S operas (cast, orchestra and crew of 50-80 people), special versions of the most popular operas designed for children’s audiences, and a variety of charming sextet concert programs. The company has also produced a cabaret act.  I’ve Got a Little Twist, created and directed by David Auxier, won a 2010 Bistro Award, has toured the country and appeared at Lincoln Center’s 2011 Atrium series.

NYGASP Founder/Artistic Director/General Manager, Albert Bergeret is a career-long professional specialist in the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, having performed, staged, conducted and designed every opera in the repertoire since the company’s founding in 1974. He has conducted and staged all 13 of the works in the G&S canon as well as the company’s smash hit production of George Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing.

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players are worthy of a Tony Award.

Coming up, NYGASP will present G&S’s “The Sorcerer” and “Trial by Jury” on April 6-7.

Also, NYGASP regularly tours its shows, and this year is featuring “Pirates of Penzance”:

Feb. 28: An Evening of G&S Favorites, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, CO

Feb. 29: The Pirates of Penzance in One Act/Evening of G&S Favorites, Lone Tree Arts Center, Lone Tree, CO

Mar. 3, 2024, The Pirates of Penzance, Popejoy Hall, Albuquerque, NM

Mar. 5: The Pirates of Penzance, Mesa Arts Center, Mesa, AZ

Mar. 7: The Pirates of Penzance, Gallo Center for the Arts, Modesto, CA

Mar. 8: The Pirates of Penzance, Clark Center for the Performing Art, Arroyo Grande, CA

Mar. 9: The Pirates of Penzance, Torrance Cultural Arts Center, Torrance, CA

Mar. 10: The Pirates of Penzance, McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA

Apr. 26: The Pirates of Penzance in One Act/Evening of G&S Favorites, Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, Joplin, MO

May 10: The Pirates of Penzance, Mayo Performing Arts Center, Morristown, NJ

More information at www.NYGASP.org, 212-772-4448.

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

‘Billy Joel-My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey’ Exhibit is Must-See at Long Island Music Hall of Fame

Billy Joel at the preview of the first exhibit devoted to his life and career, Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey at the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame: “This is quite an honor. I didn’t expect it to be that extensive. I’ve had a life.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, www.goingplacesfarandnear.com

After nearly a year of planningthe Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame (LIMEHOF) opened the first-ever exhibit dedicated exclusively to LIMEHOF Inductee and Long Island’s own music legend Billy Joel, at its Stony Brook museum location .

Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey, created with Joel’s support and chock-full of his personal items, is this incredible showcase that brings you into his decades long career. It includes some of Billy Joel’s most cherished items, rare memorabilia, behind-the-scenes videos, awards, rare audio and video recordings, vintage instruments and historic photos, many donated by Billy Joel and never seen before in public.

This exhibit, the second since the museum opened in November of 2022, is a precious opportunity to experience Billy Joel’s life-spanning career from his roots in Levittown through his record albums, tours, inspirations, and personal experiences. You follow his life from his early days in bands like the Lost Souls, the Hassles and Attila through his solo career from his 1971 “Cold Spring Harbor” debut album, his monumental concert series with Elton John, his historic concert in the Soviet Union, at Shea Stadium, as Madison Square Garden’s artist in residence, to the present.

While Billy Joel has shunned such attention in the past, his incentive for cooperating on this exhibit was his desire to boost Long Island. “Historically Billy Joel has never done an exhibition. He doesn’t like to blow his own horn because he’s kind of a humble guy next door,” said Kevin O’Callaghan, LIMEHOF board member and Creative Director, who designed the exhibit. “When I said to Billy, ‘I think Long Island really needs this,’ he gave me the thumbs up. It was a home run.”

That humility – and his commitment to Long Island – was on view at a preview of the exhibit on November 21, just before its official opening.

Billy Joel at the preview the exhibit “Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey” at LIMEHOF, “This is a little overwhelming. Did you ever find yourself surrounded by you? I guess I lived. I always wondered, did I pick this life or did it pick me? ‘Cause I really didn’t think I had much of a choice. I was going to do this no matter what because I love music.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Where did they get all this junk? I didn’t know where they were storing all these things,” Joel joked. “This is quite an honor. I didn’t expect it to be that extensive. I’ve had a life.”

“This is a little overwhelming. Did you ever find yourself surrounded by you? I guess I lived,” Joel reflected, surveying the room. “I always wondered, did I pick this life or did it pick me? ‘Cause I really didn’t think I had much of a choice. I was going to do this no matter what because I love music.”

Joel also declared that even though he’s currently selling his Centre Island home, he’s not leaving Long Island.

“This is my home and it will always be my home,” said Joel. “We will come visit this place a lot.”

Bob Buchmann, who had been a DJ at WBAB for 20 years (he’s now director of music programming for Sirius XM) came from Los Angeles to be at the exhibit preview, noting that Joel named his charity, Charity Begins at Home. “That tells you where his head is. Few people know the commitment Billy Joel has to Long Island.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bob Buchmann, who had been a DJ at WBAB for 20 years (he’s now director of music programming for Sirius XM) came from Los Angeles to be at the event. He reflected that he began working with Billy Joel 29 years ago on his charity that Joel named Charity Begins at Home. “That tells you where his head is. Few people know the commitment Billy Joel has to Long Island.” He started working with Joel after “The Stranger.” “He was already a big deal. Then he became a bigger deal.” (For his accomplishments as a musician and humanitarian, Joel was honored as the 2002 MusiCares Person of The Year by the MusiCares Foundation and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.)

To construct the biography that fills the notes in the panels, O’Callaghan “did deep research. I interviewed 100, contacted other musicians. The funny thing is that on Long Island, everyone has a Billy Joel story, met him, spoke to him.”

Kevin O’Callaghan, LIMEHOF’s Creative Director who designed the Billy Joel exhibit, said “I did deep research. I interviewed 100, contacted other musicians. The funny thing is that on Long Island, everyone has a Billy Joel story, met him, spoke to him.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Were there any revelations in the course of his research? “The amount of success he had after “Piano Man.” Every record he did had 2,3,4 hits, a nonstop train, then he stopped recording and went into touring.” Billy Joel produced 13 studio albums, the last one more than 20 years ago.

“It has been a thrill and an honor to work with Billy in creating this extraordinary testament to his life and music,” O’Callaghan remarked.  “It is one of the highlights of my long career and I’m sure visitors will be thrilled with the result.” O’Callaghan, who also designed LIMEHOF’s first exhibition, and Canadeo presented the exhibit plans and designs to Billy Joel several times during the past year and incorporated his input.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a grand piano Billy Joel used on his “Face to Face Tour” with Elton John which spins on a 16-foot revolving turntable © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a grand piano Joel used on his “Face to Face Tour” with Elton John that sits on a 16-foot revolving turntable with a wall-sized backdrop of live concert clips of him playing the piano with audio – including performing with Paul McCartney. On top of the piano is Joel’s harmonica and neck brace that O’Callaghan said he found inside the piano. “This is like holy grail stuff.”

The grand piano Billy Joel used on his “Face to Face Tour” with Elton John features has a wall-sized backdrop playing live concert videos© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Rocket Man and The Piano Man came together in July 1994 and began what is considered the longest-running, most successful collaboration in pop music history. They played in stadiums across the globe from 1994-2010.

Other highlights: in 1987, Billy Joel brought his band and his family to the USSR for six concerts in Moscow and Leningrad, making history when they played at Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Moscow as the first Western artist to perform behind the Iron Curtain. “Billy thought himself a diplomatic musician. ‘I was very proud of that trip, and I think we helped kick the door in a little bit to open it up to democratic stuff’.”

Billy Joel played the last concerts before Shea Stadium was torn down and played the first concerts at Citifield © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shea Stadium was opened in 1965 with a concert by The Beatles, and Billy Joel headlined the final act before it closed in 2008. “The Last Play at the Shea” had epic performances including Tony Bennett singing “New York State of Mind”, but then Paul McCartney surprised him, running onstage to perform “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “Let it Be,” ending the circle The Beatles began in 1965. The two played together again to open Citifield.

The most remarkable relationship, though, is Billy Joel’s 45 year relationship with Madison Square Garden, beginning in 1978. In 2013, he became MSG’s first-ever music franchise, starting a residency in January 2014 with a line up of one show per month “as long as the demand continues.” By 2018, he had hit 100 performances; a banner in the exhibit lists 125, and he is expected to hit 150 before the residency finally ends next year.

The exhibit celebrates Billy Joel’s 45 year relationship with Madison Square Garden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout the exhibit, there are these incredibly personal insights into his music.

Of the items of which O’Callaghan was most proud to display are the music instruments that his band, The Hassles, would have used, including the keyboard and a rare scroll bass and a piano (the drum with The Hassles name is original, but the musicians would not part with their actual instruments).

Of the items of which O’Callaghan was most proud to display are the music instruments that Billy Joel’s band, The Hassles, would have used when he was 17 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Hassles. That was the beginning, his first success. One hit record – he got a taste of what it was like to be a star. It was pivotal to make contact with them, it was fun.”

In a panel titled “Billy the Kid,” Joel is quoted as saying, “I could make my piano talk for me. The piano spoke what I was feeling.”

It’s because the exhibit is so personal, so intimate that it is so inspiring. You see Billy Joel’s house in Levittown, considered the birthplace of America’s Suburbia (he changed the name to Allentown for the song), where his parents moved from the Bronx soon after he was born in 1949. There is actually a program for his first recital at age 11, and a photo of him playing in a high school band.

“Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey” traces the music icon’s life and career from his childhood in Levittown, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

His father was a virtuoso concert pianist as well as a businessman who was born in was born in Nuremberg, Germany, to a Jewish family who emigrated to the US by way of Cuba (because of US quotas) to escape Nazi Germany. His mother, born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents who emigrated from England, was the one who insisted on Billy taking music lessons.

“Beginning lessons at the tender age of four, he was precocious,” we learn from one of the panels. “‘I love this, I thought. There was wizardry to it, a kind of sorcery to the manipulation of sound. And it enchanted people.’ High school wasn’t a concern for Billy – music was. At 14 he would regularly miss class due to playing in bands all night. One day, Hicksville High School music teacher Chuck Arnold caught Billy playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and nurtured the talented teen, encouraging him to pursue music professionally.”

“Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey” at the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame traces the music icon’s life and career © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Billy dropped out of Hicksville High to focus on his music. But in 1992, after submitting essays to the school board in lieu of the missed exam, he finally was awarded his diploma at Hicksville High’s graduation ceremony 25 years after leaving. He returned 25 years after that, in 2017, to give the commencement address. Meanwhile, he has earned honorary doctorates from Fairfield University (1991), Berklee College of Music (1993), Hofstra University (1997), Southampton College, Syracuse University (2006), Manhattan School of Music (2008) and Stony Brook University (2015).

Another panel describes his influences. In addition to Gershwin and Beethoven, we learn that “In the late 50s, Billy was fascinated by Elvis Presley, impersonating him during a ‘Hound Dog’ performance in third grade. The Beatles heavily influenced Billy’s life, confirming his determination to become a professional musician.” His tastes widened to embrace 60s rock and roll, soul and blues, with influences like Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Chuck Berry, jazz greats Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson. The Beach Boys were also important to him: he opened for the Beach Boys early on in his career, and later performed “Don’t Worry Baby” at a Brian Wilson tribute concert in 2010.

We are brought back in time to Billy Joel’s early band: The Hassles were “a blue-eyed soul band” formed in 1964 on Long Island, most notable for recording the first release featuring Billy Joel (he was 17 when he joined). The Hassles earned $250 a week as the house band for My House, a club run by Danny Mazur. “The band often played 20-hour days in clubs throughout Long Island and Manhattan, sneaking into shows like Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull during their free time. The Long Island band served as an educational experience for Billy, signing with United Artists and getting his first taste of success.” (If you saw LIMEHOF’s first exhibition, you would appreciate the impact that Long Island’s many music venues had on birthing the talent that now fills its Hall of Fame.)

“Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey” at the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame traces the music icon’s life and career © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn that “The Piano Man” (1973), Joel’s second album and first with Columbia, “is what really went on when I was a piano man in this piano bar,” Billy Joel said in 2017. “All the characters have the same name. There was John at the bar, the bartender, Davy was in the Navy, a guy named Paul, who was a real estate agent and was trying to write the great American novel, and the waitress, who was my girlfriend at the time and then became my wife.”

There are stations where you can listen to albums like “The Stranger” (1977), Joel’s first critical and commercial breakthrough album, which sold over 10 million copies and spawned hit singles including “Just the Way You Are,” “Movin’ Out,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “She’s Always a Woman” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” which is notably one of Joel’s favorites of his own songs. You can also listen to “52nd Street” (1978), his first album to peak at No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart, among others.

You can listen to Billy Joel’s albums at the LIMEHOF exhibit “Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He has gone on to sell 160 million records, making  him one of the world’s top-selling music artists; had 33 Top 40 hits and 23 Grammy nominations since signing his first solo recording contract in 1972, winning six.

He has gone on to sell 160 million records, making  him one of the world’s top-selling music artists; had 33 Top 40 hits and 23 Grammy nominations since signing his first solo recording contract in 1972, winning six. He has won the Grammy Legend Award (1990), was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1999), and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). He’s won the Johnny Mercer Award (2001)Diamond Award from the Recording Industry Association of America for albums that sold over 10 million copies; got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame (2004), and received The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (2014).

What such a retrospective shows is that Billy Joel’s songs are less the typical love sought or love lost that are typical of pop, but more ballads that “meant something during the time in which I lived … and transcended that time” – like “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. Indeed, he was presented with the Kennedy Center Honor (December 2013), given for influencing American culture.

Billy Joel has remained true to his Long Island roots © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Joel has remained true to his Long Island roots. His first solo album was named for the hamlet, Cold Spring Harbor. He recorded Live from Long Island, his first video special, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale on December 30, 1982. When he premiered his new song “Christmas in Fallujah”. on December 1, 2007, it was performed by Cass Dillon, a new Long Island based musician. (The track was dedicated to servicemen based in Iraq. Joel wrote it in September 2007 after reading numerous letters sent to him from American soldiers in Iraq. “Christmas in Fallujah” is only the second pop/rock song released by Joel since 1993’s River of Dreams; proceeds benefited the Homes For Our Troops foundation).

On December 12, 2012, Joel performed at the Concert for Sandy Relief at Madison Square Garden in support of victims. In October, 2013, Joel held a surprise concert at The Paramount in Huntington to benefit Long Island Cares. His August 4, 2015 concert at Nassau Coliseum was the final concert before prior to the arena’s $261 million renovation and he returned to on April 5, 2017 to play the first concert at the newly renovated venue.And in 2010, Joel opened a shop in Oyster Bay to manufacture custom-made, retro-styled motorcycles and accessories. One of his motorcycles is on exhibit at LIMEHOF.

One of Billy Joel’s motorcycles in the LIMEHOF exhibit “Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We are thrilled and honored to present the Billy Joel exhibit everyone has been waiting for,” said Ernie Canadeo, LIMEHOF Chairman. “Billy has been very cordial and involved in the planning, and it is appropriate the exhibit is on Long Island, where he has long been identified, written so many songs and lived most of his life. It is a fitting tribute to Long Island’s most successful entertainer and is guaranteed to thrill his legions of fans.”

The LIMEHOF Billy Joel exhibit is supported and sponsored by Catholic Health, The Joel Foundation, Madison Square Garden Entertainment, Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel, The Haugland Group, M&T Bank, The EGC Group and Lessing’s Hospitality.

“Catholic Health is very proud to be the presenting sponsor of the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame and this particular exhibit really captures what it’s all about,” said Joe Carofano, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Chief Marketing Officer of Catholic Health. “Billy Joel, The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame and Catholic Health all share a common love of Long Island; its spirit, its heritage and its unique character. Our roots are intertwined; bringing us together to celebrate the joy of life that Long Island inspires in all of us.”

“Billy Joel – My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey” at the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame traces the music icon’s life and career © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Timed entry tickets are available at www.TheBillyJoelExhibit.com and at LIMEHOF (VIP “any time” tickets good for the duration of the exhibit, are also available). The exhibit is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday (11 am-6 pm); and Friday and Saturday (11 am-7 pm). The exhibit is expected to run at least through August 2024.

Founded in 2004, the Long Island Music Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the idea that Long Island’s musical and entertainment heritage is an important resource to be celebrated and preserved for future generations. The organization, which encompasses New York State’s Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, and Kings (Brooklyn) Counties, was created as a place of community that inspires and explores Long Island music and entertainment in all its forms. In 2022, LIMEHOF opened its first Hall of Fame building location in Stony Brook, New York. To date, the organization has inducted more than 120 musicians and music industry executives, and offers education programs, scholarships, and awards to Long Island students and educators.

For more information about LIMEHOF visit www.LIMEHOF.org

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Beyond Van Gogh, Beyond Monet Immersive Experiences Offer New Way to Appreciate Masters and Their Masterpieces

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, www.goingplacesfarandnear.com

What the leading edge technology of Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience does is to turn a static, albeit emotional, experience of appreciating a painting, into an active, dynamic, cinematic one.

On view at Samanea New York Mall, Westbury, Long Island only until January 2, in the course of 40-minutes, you see some 300 of Van Gogh’s paintings surrounding you, projected on all four walls and the floor in a 30,000 sq. ft. space the size of a basketball court. The paintings fill the entire wall, large enough to walk into, become animated, turning stills into images that grow, change, emerge, ripple, wave, flow and blossom over you – in essence, animating the movement that Van Gogh so powerfully created with his paint strokes.

It is as if you see the painting develop from Van Gogh’s perspective, his mind’s eye and hand.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And I have to say, it is more stirring to see his works this way, than when I have seen “Starry Night Over the Rhone” which attracted the biggest crowds in a room in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, or “Sunflowers” at the Museum of Modern Art, or his famous self-portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Is it blasphemous to say that these manifestations are more emotionally captivating than the original? Or is it enough to say, the paintings presented this way are as emotionally captivating but in a different way that adds cinematic drama.

The other benefit is that you see in this incredible 40-minute presentation some 300 of Van Gogh’s paintings – and not just zipping in front of your eyes, but well paced, magnificently and respectfully presented, each scene staying long enough to absorb what you are seeing all around you, to music perfectly curated to convey mood and emotion, before changing again.

It begs for active engagement in the sense of walking around, changing your visual perspective, even as the scene changes. There is a sense of immediacy as well as immersion.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Timed tickets, the vast openness of the space and enormous scale of the paintings almost insure you will have enough space to feel yourself a part of the paintings, large enough as if you could walk into any scene.

The music that provides the backdrop for the different scenes and themes of the works presented are equally well curated.

You are in tune with Vincent, as well, because the paintings seem to originate as if from his own hand – the basis are these sensitive quotes that mostly come from the letters between Vincent and his loving brother Theo, which document how he came to his artistic expression.

the heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths, it has its pearls too,” he wrote Theo from Isleworth in 1876.

“…in all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul, as it were,” Vincent writes Theo in 1882.

“I don’t know if you’ll understand that one can speak poetry just by arranging colours well, just as one can say comforting things in music,” he writes his sister Willemien from Arles, in 1888.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Van Gogh’s biography is very much abbreviated – the focus is on his art and creativity. But there are these important nuggets that provide a context for better appreciating the paintings, that come from revealing quotes from the letters between Vincent and his loving, supportive brother Theo, which document how he came to his artistic expression and what art, color, light, nature meant to him.  I had no idea he came so late to being an artist, beginning when he was 27, in fact, the vast majority of his 1000 canvases, painted in only a decade, were painted in the last three years of his life, or that he became an art dealer like his brother, Theo, then, briefly studied to become a preacher, before devoting himself to his art.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But it is intensely personal – throughout the exhibit, you see and hear snippets of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo, that provide such insights into Van Gogh’s essence, and burst the monotone myth of a man in a constant state of anguish: “the heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths, it has its pearls too,” he wrote Theo from Isleworth in 1876.

 “In life and in painting too,” he writes Theo in 1888 from Arles, “I can easily do without the dear Lord, but I can’t, suffering as I do, do without something greater than myself, which is my life, the power to create.”

Paintings emerge like brush strokes, or like ripples of hot air, or like waves that wash over the canvas, splashing across the floor.

Sometimes the paintings themselves are made to animate, like the smoke that rises from the pipe he smokes in a self-portrait; and a windmill’s fans actually turn (a game for the viewer, a device to engage).

The scenes unfold, linger long enough to be appreciated, then another scene emerges.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is stunning to see his famous “Starry Night Over the Rhone” (1888) take over the walls and splash over the floor, the reflections of light in the water not at all static but shimmering, glittering and rippling.

 “..the sight of the stars always makes me dream…” Vincent writes Theo from Arles in 1888.

In another scene, trees grow up with springtime blossoms multiply,  blow in the wind, gathering more and more, becoming a storm of petals. You hear the wind.

Another display imagines a score of canvases stacked up against the wall – then transmute to stilllifes.

A roomful of the portraits he painted is profound – going beyond their surface image to create these characters.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When a whole roomful of his self-portraits unfold, you are struck by the honesty. “It is difficult to know oneself, but it isn’t easy to paint oneself either,” he writes from Saint-Remy in 1889

Van Gogh didn’t sell any of his art during his lifetime. He suffered from clinical depression that in those days, had no medical treatment. But he seemed to have a desperate desire and even an inclination that his works would survive him, as when he refers to his subjects as becoming “ghosts” visiting future viewers.

An artist who today is considered one of the greatest of all time was considered a failure (as an artist). In this, Van Gogh gives hope and inspiration to every other failed, un- and under-appreciated artist.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The show, brilliantly, sensitively, imaginatively done, is itself a work of art – multi-media, performance art – because it takes all of these works and creates something new, a new way to experience the paintings, that will engage young people being introduced to art as well as devotees, artists and academics.

“I came to recognize and appreciate that the world was witnessing the cusp of a new art form- a reinterpretation of the fascinating narrative between master and masterpiece,” writes Gilles Paquin, Founder, Chairman, Executive Producer of Paquin Entertainment Group, Inc., in the forward to the show’s publication. “Combining fine art and artifacts with music and cinema, curated, staged and presented in a way that can be enjoyed by an audience so diverse it transcends the confines of age, gender and cultural demographics.”

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“At the start of this creation, we searched for a refreshing perspective of Van Gogh’s vision of the world,” writes Mathieu St-Arnaud, Creative Director & Art Direction, Normal Studio. “What we found was unexpected and captivating: we were met with Vincent, a human being like all of us, an artist devoted to his craft, yearning for beauty and moved by purpose. It became a personal journey for us, one that we wanted to extend to audience members around the world: to go beyond the myth that is Van Gogh and instead meet Vincent, the man behind the vision. Wielding colour and light, Vincent transformed hardship and darkness into light and joy, infusing his work with a contagious sense of hope that it still exudes today. Amidst the challenges of today, there’s something truly inspiring in Vincent’s will to focus on the wonders of the world and his determination to both capture and share them with all of us. In more ways than one. Vincent is the artist we need right now.”

The end of the loop is a series of Vincent’s famous signature that emerge from scores of his paintings – we learn that he only signed “Vincent” because he feared his surname would be too difficult to pronounce. “yours very truly, Vincent.”

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This scene is like Van Gogh’s final word as if to say, “This is me. This is what I created. This is what I have left to the world.”

Vincent Van Gogh left this world in 1890, 37 years old, just as his work was gaining critical recognition. “to succeed, to have lasting prosperity, one must have temperament different from mine,” he writes Theo in 1889. “I make a point of telling myself, yes I am something, I can do something.”

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a multi-media, performance art showpiece that inspires new ways to appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s genius © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience

Long Islanders are lucky because Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience which was brought back after a hugely successful run through the holidays, alternates days with Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience.

Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience gives guests a glimpse into the emotions and perspectives of the leading figure of Impressionism: Claude Monet, with some 400 of his works. Taking inspiration from Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, the designated home of Monet’s masterpieces, guests can freely roam the Infinity Room to absorb the artist’s bright and colorful paintings. Monet’s stunning imagery encompasses every surface of the room, transporting guests inside the paintings themselves. It is a haven for awakening the senses as the ebb and flow of the artwork is accompanied by the rhythm of an original score.

“When you stand inside Beyond Monet, you truly feel like you are part of Monet’s passionate quest for the effervescent beauty of the world,” Beyond Monet Art Historian Fanny Curtat said. “Experiences like these create fresh and original perspectives, allowing us to form new relationships with notable masterpieces in dynamic and fascinating ways.”

Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Through cutting edge technology, Beyond Monet: The Immersive Experience is redefining what art means to people,” stated Paquin Entertainment Group’s President of Exhibitions and Theatrical, Justin Paquin “It has elevated artwork to the next level, allowing us to form new relationships with notable masterpieces that were just not possible in previous years.”

Ideal for enjoying through the holidays (both Beyond Van Gogh and Beyond Monet end the Long Island presentation on January 3), but there are other cities where the exhibitions are on view or will be).

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience has sold over 6 million tickets worldwide and may be seen in San Diego and Tulsa and will be coming to Baltimore, Dayton, Grand Forks, Tallahassee, Tucson, Ventura, Washington DC, West Palm Beach.

See schedule and purchase timed tickets to Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience in advance at www.vangoghlongisland.com (on Wednesdays and Fridays) alternating with alternating with Beyond Monet The Immersive Experience at www.monetlongisland.com (on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays), at Samanea New York, 1500 Old Country Road, Westbury, NY.

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