Category Archives: European travel

European Waterways Alsace-Lorraine Canal Cruise: Strasbourg’s Cathedral, Wine Tasting on Route des Vins

Cruising through the allee of trees into Strasbourg on our first morning on European Waterways’ Panache cruise through Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 2 Krafft to Strasbourg

Our first morning cruising the canals of France’s Alsace-Lorraine aboard European Waterways’ luxury barge hotel, Panache, takes us from Krafft on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin toward Strasbourg. The route brings us through a spectacularly picturesque allee of trees that apparently dates back to the time of Napoleon. The landscaping of this avenue of trees is a straight line with the trees uniform in shape. You have the feeling of floating through Impressionist paintings – it is so exquisitely beautiful, especially with the morning light creating an ethereal tableau.

Cruising through the allee of trees into Strasbourg on our first morning on European Waterways’ Panache cruise through Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We cruise through locks 81 to 85. A towpath along the canal has been repurposed for biking and walking and I immediately set out to ride. Captain Brian readies the bikes and puts it on the bank for us – it doesn’t take long to get the hang of stepping on or off the boat as it lifts up or down in the lock. (I quickly learn by mistake to watch the signs that tell you when to cross over the canal to stay on the path.)

Biking the towpath alongside the Canal de la Marne au Rhin into Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I soon realize that I bike three times as fast as the boat travels, especially since it also spends time going through various locks, so I can enjoy biking the route, then riding back to a lock as the boat approaches, and get to see the scenery all over again from the perspective of the boat’s sundeck (also, it is usually lunch time – don’t want to miss that).

Biking the towpath alongside the Canal de la Marne au Rhin into Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lunch this first day is a salad of beet root and goat cheese; chicken with a moelle sauce and polenta, served with Saint Romain Chardonnay from Burgundy and La Baronne Alaric (2014), a Syrah blend from the south of France. The cheeses we get to experience include a cow’s milk blue cheese made from a 1200-year old recipe from Auvergne; a Reblochon from Savoie, made from raw cow milk and aged (not pasteurized) for 6-8 weeks.

Bikers get ready to get back on the Panache as it comes into a lock on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive at Strasbourg, where we tie up at a canal at the outer ring of the historic center, Le Petit France, and walk off the boat to explore on our own before meeting up at Le Pont du Corbeau for a walking tour guided by Captain Brian. (I get lost and after getting directions from a local woman, am staring down at my phone when I hear my name as I am literally walking passed our group waiting at the bridge.)

Le Petit France, Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Le Pont du Corbeau was originally called the Schindbrucke (Bridge of Tortures): a law from 1411 that specified that anyone sentenced to death be sewn up inside a linen sack and thrown into the river – a practice which continued until 1617. From 1466 onwards, thieves were locked up in a cage on the bridge to be mocked by passersby before being thrown into the River Ill to swim for their lives. In 1502, a stone crucifix was affixed to the beams of the bridge for people convicted of crimes to repent their acts.

I had already had a couple of days in Strasbourg to explore on my own, but really enjoy Captain Brian’s narration.

Le Petit France, Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk through Le Petit France, the section we find so charming and picturesque with its painted houses with wood beams, floral arrangements, and immaculate streets. But Captain Brian notes, before the 18th century, this district would have been the poorest, stinkiest part of town, populated with fishermen, tanners and animals. The structures would have been made with wood beams coated with a varnish made of a mixture of blood and vinegar (“it looks good but stinks”); waste would have been thrown directly into the canal. The closer to the Cathedral, though, the richer you likely would be – the Chamber of Commerce is located a stone’s throw away.

Le Petit France, Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That’s when we come to Place Gutenberg, which provides an entranceway toward the Cathedral. At the center, there is an impressive monument to Johannes Gutenberg, the German inventor of moveable type. Brian tells us that it is said Gutenberg got his inspiration for the printing press from the wine presses he saw when he lived in Strasbourg. (I learn more about this when I return to Strasbourg at the end of the cruise and visit the City historical museum.)

Riding the carousel in Place Gutenberg, in Strasbourg’s old city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gutenberg Place also has a marvelous old-timey carousel and since our fellow passengers, Kathy and Marc, are celebrating their 25th anniversary today and Kathy has expressed interest in riding it, we whisper to Marc he should take her for a ride.

Once the tallest building in the world, Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral dominates the city and the Alsace-Lorraine region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We next walk to Notre-Dame of Strasbourg, a fabulous Cathedral that is considered one of the finest examples of Rayonnant Gothic architecture in Europe, built on a site where a church has stood since the 4-5th century. Construction began in 1015, was relaunched in 1190, and finished in 1439. Erwin von Steinbach, credited as the main architect, worked on it from 1277 until his death in 1318, continued by his son Johannes and his grandson, Gerlach.  

Spectacularly decorated with 300 statutes on the outside and two towering spires supported by two huge pillars, Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is a study in Gothic flamboyance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With the bell tower at 142 meters (466 feet) high, Strasbourg’s Cathedral stood as the world’s tallest building for 227 years, from 1647 to 1874. It is still the sixth tallest church in the world, and the tallest structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. It was visible across Alsace, as far off as the Black Forest and the Vosges Mountains, from which the reddish-brown sandstone that gives the cathedral its distinctive color was quarried.

Spectacularly decorated with 300 statutes on the outside and two towering spires supported by two huge pillars, Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is a study in Gothic flamboyance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Spectacularly decorated with 300 statutes on the outside and two towering spires supported by two huge pillars it is a study in Gothic flamboyance.

Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of the most impressive of Europe’s cathedrals © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The major attractions of the Cathedral include the Astronomical Clock, a Renaissance masterpiece, and its stained glass windows.

The Musee de L’Oeurvre Notre-Dame just across the square, which I visited, is where you can see the original statuary and art that decorated the Cathedral.

The Palais Rohan, which Louis XIV built for the Bishop, today houses three important Strasbourg museums – Fine Arts, Decorative Arts and Archaeology © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also across the square – which is a delightfully festive place – there is the Palais Rohan, which Louis XIV built for the Bishop to cement his bond with the Catholic Church. Today it houses three important museums – Fine Arts, Decorative Arts and Archaeology – which I have visited.

We continue to wander on our own, exploring the narrow cobblestone streets, returning to the ship by 7 pm for dinner.

One of Chef Leo’s fabulous culinary creations aboard the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dinner features tuna tartare with ponzu (a citrus-based sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine prepared with soy sauce, lime and fennel), served in a rice paper cup with edible flowers (marvelous – so flavorful but not spicey); octopus in black sauce (squid ink), marinated and baked in the oven with eggplant (it took seven hours to cook). The wines are Santenay La Forge (2021) from Cote D’Or; the red is Mercurey, a Bourgogne from Louis Jadot, pairing perfectly with the meal.

The cheeses tonight include the “Queen of Cheese,” Brie de Meaux, “the most popular cheese in the world,” a salty, creamy cow’s milk cheese from Ile-de-France served uncooked and unpressed that you are supposed to hold in your mouth as it melts; Langres, a cow’s milk cheese from Champagne-Ardenne (the rind is designed to be served with Champagne put into a cross hatch on the top which is absorbed and moistens the cheese); and Selles-sur-Cher,a goat’s milk cheese from the Loire Valley, which is dusted with charcoal, to protect and seal the shape, that has a mineral flavor of rind and a briny, tangy center, served with honey.

Panache’s Captain Brian demonstrates how to slice open a Champagne bottle with a saber, to celebrate an occasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, Captain Brian surprises Marc and Kathy with a ritual to celebrate their 25th anniversary – he removes a saber from a box and shows Marc how to slice open a champagne bottle. Then we toast the couple with Champagne. Marc is far more thrilled with this anniversary gesture than riding the carousel.

We overnight in Strasbourg.

Day 3 Strasbourg to Waltenheim-sur-Zorn

While still moored in Strasbourg this morning, we are taken on a scenic drive into the rolling Vosges hills on La Route des Vins d’Alsace, the oldest wine route in France.

The gorgeous Alsatian landscape on La Route des Vins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Instead of visiting a conventional vineyard and winery, Captain Brian takes us to Domaine Lissner in the village of Wolxheim to meet a renegade, a true maverick: Bruno Schloegel is on a self-appointed mission to prove how wine can be and should be produced truly naturally, truly sustainably, to protect the environment and the planet.  

Vintner Bruno Schloegel of Domaine Lissner is proud of his “savage” vineyard where he is on a mission to return to natural cultivation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bruno’s neighbors were not happy (and thought him fou) – his vineyard, which he took over in 2001 from his Uncle Clement Lissner, is a wild tangle of vines in contrast to their manicured rows of pruned vines – but some have come around. He acknowledges his yields are not as great, but it costs him a fraction to operate because he doesn’t use any machinery, any extra energy, or any irrigation or pumps, and spends less on labor. He estimates he saves 600 man-hours of work and some E60,000.

The gorgeous Alsatian landscape on La Route des Vins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bruno, who was a university professor and sociologist, has a deep reverence for the past and a deep concern for the future. Vines have been cultivated here since the 7th century, his family has been here since the 17th century, and this vineyard has been in his family for generations. Wine stock, he tells us, can last 800 years. “I had to imagine 2-3 generations from now,” he tells us. “I am responsible to the next generation; these vines link us from the past to the future. We have to find new ways to live in nature.”

Since taking over the vineyard, he has spent the past 22 years “rebuilding the chains of life – the birds, insects and what is under soil. It is a complex approach. I want to take you in our world, our way of thinking. Our wines are living wines- the result of animals, plants – living systems” served non-filtered. “We had to wait up to 10 years for the soil to be alive. We didn’t plant, didn’t treat, don’t put pressure on the wine stock.”

It took that long for the natural plants, animals, insects to come back and for the soil to be rejuvenated. He depends on the birds, spiders, insects, lizards to maintain the ecosystem. “If you would have to invent this machine (a lizard) to wait for fly – it would cost a lot,” he half-jokes. He stresses the importance of biodiversity, “each place another world.”    

Manicured vineyards, Bruno insists, masks poor soil. “They are not close to a living system. They are ‘slave’ to the plow. What are we doing to the planet?” In contrast, “We don’t disturb the living cycle.”

The gorgeous Alsatian landscape on La Route des Vins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He acknowledges that this was an experiment in geological behavior, but insists, “Natural methods produce more resilient vines,” and he will be in much better shape to meet the inevitable challenges of climate change. (Researchers estimate that as much as 70 percent of the world’s wine regions will become too warm this century, including as much as 90 percent of wine’s best traditional regions in Spain, Italy, Greece and Southern California.)  

“Energy is not cheap – especially with climate change,” he says. “But even if the climate changes, our system will adapt. We have to find new ways – with this experiment, I can say it works.”

Sounding a bit like a Buddhist monk of winemaking, he says, “More is sometimes less. They cut from the human, machine point of view, not the vine’s point of view” and speaks of “happy vines” free to live their own cycle. “I listen to the wine stock. I let the birds have first growth of grape.” He shows us a plant at the head of a row that presents like a natural cup for birds to drink so they don’t come to vines.

“We regard the vines like a relationship with a living being. We used to have this relationship. It’s a good way to renew the relationship in next century.”

“A harvest is like a wedding – a high moment. We prepare the bride for wedding – we cut only what is dangerous, prune just to make it safe. He says constantly trimming the leaves, prevents the vines from reaching the end of their natural cycle. “There is a time when the leaves should stop growing, so all the energy of the plant goes to grape. But what they do is cut leaves just to make sugar.”

Bruno Schloegel of Domaine Lissner in the wine cellar where the production is completely unmechanized and natural © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From the field, he takes us next into his wine cellar. He spent four years designing it, another year to find an architect and 40 pages of plans to build a sustainable system that relied on gravity and natural temperature control without the aid of machines or external energy. “We wanted a vertical effluent process to let yeast ferment the juice. The old system had too many steps.”

Back in his tasting room, we get to sample a dozen of his wines.

The Panache guests get a private tasting of Domaine Lissner’s wines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive back to the Panache where lunch is being served: a cold black tomato and cucumber soup; spinach and cheese quiche; smoked salmon, horseradish; marinated seabass; strawberry and goat cheese, and chocolate mousse. The wine includes Chateau Aspras, LesTrois Freres, the third generation family winery; a premiere Rose (2022) from Cotes de Provence, a lovely light wine so suited for lunch.

The Panache cruises past the European Parliament in Strasbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We pull away from our mooring in Strasbourg to continue cruising, taking us passed the impressive European Parliament building on the outskirts of Strasbourg and on through the Brumath Forest to the picturesque village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn.

The gorgeous Alsatian countryside just outside Waltenheim-sur-Zorn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

I bike from Lock 51 to 44 (it takes just a half hour), back and forth, thrilled by the pastoral landscapes.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises into Waltenheim-sur-Zorn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tonight’s dinner is in a charming restaurant in the village, A L’Eoile, which, though very good, cannot compare with Chef Leo’s creations – clearly we have been spoiled in just these few days. We also get a view to local life – a 70th birthday celebration is going on and the dancing line carries into the street.

Waltenheim-sur-Zorn at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we have already seen, the Alsace-Lorraine is fiercely French, but the German heritage (having occupied the region multiple times) cannot be denied – in architecture, in cooking, in language.

It is as Bruno said, The Alsace-Lorraine region has a culture that is an inescapably a melding of French and German – “still in the way of thinking, drinking, growing, living together”.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache, moored for the night in the charming village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn in the Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A few of us go for a walk in the night – the view of the boat on the canal is breathtaking.

European Waterways, 1-877-879-8808, www.europeanwaterways.com.

See also:

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

Next: 3 Musketeers Intrigue in Saverne, Lalique in Lutzelbourg

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European Waterways’ Panache Hotel Barge Cruises France’s Alsace-Lorraine Canals in Luxury

European Waterways’ Panache hotel barge cruises the Marne-Rhin canal through the historic city of Saverne in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reflecting back, it is so interesting that a trip that is so absolutely relaxing can also be filled with activity, interesting, even astonishing, attractions, scenic sights, and cuisine that is Michelin-star caliber, and how, traveling slower than 3 mph, you can see so much, experience so much in a day.

This is European Waterways’ six-night/seven-day Marne-Rhin Canal cruise through France’s Alsace & Lorraine Region, aboard its hotel barge, Panache. The boat sleeps 12 and has a crew of six, so pampering is an understatement – this is like a floating luxury boutique hotel.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache cruising the Marne-Rhin Canal through France’s Alsace & Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Over the course of our cruise, we have guided tours of charming, colorful, historic cities including Strasbourg, Saverne and Sarrebourg, visit the Rene Lalique crystal museum, see Marc Chagall’s largest and grandest stained glass work, go through a boat “guillotine” and ascend a remarkable boat elevator,  have a private tasting at what can only be described as a renegade/maverick winery on the Route des Vins d’Alsace, and so many more surprises that delight.

Preparing to get back on the Panache as it rises in the lock, after biking the towpath © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The slow pace of the barge proves an advantage because I also get to bike along the towpath the entire length of the route, return to the boat, and see the scenery again from a different perspective of the elevated perch of the boat deck.

The pace is so relaxed, and to be candid, the level of luxury and pampering so great, you don’t even realize how much you have done in a– whether it’s biking the route, sightseeing and visiting villages, historic and cultural places, enjoying fine wine and cuisine, and still have time to just hang out and watch the landscape go by and enjoy the company of fellow travelers.

We do so much in a day, it is mind-boggling to realize (well after the trip), what short distances we actually travel each day (several of the excursions involve us being picked up by van where the boat docks), and where we were the day before and will be the day after. Time and distance just kind of melt.

I have cleverly arranged to arrive two days early in Strasbourg, where the Alsace-Lorraine cruise starts – this takes into account any unexpected flight or travel delays, and gives me two half days and one full day in this picturesque old city (we actually will be visiting here with the cruise on our first full day).

Captain Brian picks us up at the Regent Petit France Hotel, which sits astride the canal with the most picturesque view of the historic district, and chauffeurs us to where the hotel barge is tied up at Krafft, where we are greeted by the crew of six with Premier Cru FrereJohn Freres Champagne and hors d’oeurves, and introduces to the boat, the crew and our fellow traveling companions for the week.

The salon/dining room is absolutely stunning, with comfortable sofas and chairs, a long dining table, large picture windows that let the light and scenery in.

Panache is a hotel barge that has been fitted out in traditional yacht style with brass and mahogany fittings and polished hardwood floors in the spacious public areas and very comfortable cabin accommodation. The salon/dining room is absolutely stunning, with comfortable sofas and chairs, a long dining table, large picture windows that let the natural light and scenery in.  The separated dining area is roomy, providing a congenial setting for up to 12 to enjoy the gourmet meals and fine wines served on board at the grand table. Here we also have access to free Wifi,

Panache accommodates 12 passengers in six spacious cabins (larger than the room at the delightful Hotel Hannong I had just left in Strasbourg), that can be configured for twin or double-bed, with plush linens, plenty of lights and electric plug-ins, our own temperature control, room to store our clothes, and private bathroom (double sinks! oversized shower!). Housekeeping comes in twice a day and leaves a chocolate on the pillow at night. Truly a boutique hotel room that floats us from destination to destination in absolute luxury.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache has just six spacious cabins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Panache has a very comfortable sun deck with lounging chairs and table and chairs, from which you can enjoy the scenery, have cocktails and dine alfresco, and heated spa pool. There also is a plentiful number of bicycles which I take advantage of each day, virtually biking the entire route (and then getting back on board to enjoy it from the perch of the boat).

Each evening, Captain Brian (who is also the general manager, the cruise director, our tour guide and sometimes the pilot and just 25 years old) orients us to the boat and our cruise, especially the invitation that the crew “never lets a glass go empty, so if you don’t want a refill of wine, put your hand over it” (and they are only half kidding, as we discover). Each evening, he orients us to what we will do the next day – whether to visit a museum or a guided walking tour – and each day is distinguished by a special highlight.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache cruising the Marne-Rhin Canal through France’s Alsace & Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You expect picturesque scenery and to visit fascinating cultural attractions but what is totally unexpected is the astonishing quality of the cuisine that we are treated to by Chef Leo – a young chef who, we learn, was a contestant on France’s “Top Chef”. Over the course of our six days of cruising, we experience Michelin-star quality dining, as Chef Leo enjoys experimenting. As he jokes, each cruise brings him more “guinea pigs”.

Chef Leo’s tuna tartare © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

His cooking is really distinctive – it is not any particular cuisine, necessarily. He has a vibrant taste palate, likes a lot of flavor without overwhelming the actual flavor of the main item, and most important, is never too rich. He is really imaginative, creative, and the presentations are stunning. There are three courses for lunch and dinner, so each individual course is not too much, but not too little, either, with a different red and white wine accompanying each, and three different cheeses to finish.

Lunch and dinner finish with three cheeses to sample © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each meal is an event, an experience. Chef Leo comes out to explain each course, and Emily (from England) or Martyna (from Poland) introduce the wines – where produced, the vintage, the pedigree – and the cheeses (which have fascinating stories). By the end of the cruise, including the tasting at a most distinctive (progressive) winery that Captain Brian has found, we must have tasted more than 36 wines and 36 cheeses from throughout France – each perfectly paired for what is being served to bring out the best flavors.

Panache’s crew: Chef Leo, Captain Brian, pilot Bernard, Emily, Martyna and mate Akosh. The European Waterways canal cruises feature a 1:2 crew to guest ratio © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They do their best to school us in the complicated classifications of French wines. We learn about Grand Cru and Premier Cru, which refer to official designations of vineyards and villages in a specific French region where the grapes are grown. Also “terroir” which describes the complete natural environment (ecosystem) in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, geography and topography, rootstock  and climate that impart the characteristic taste and flavor to the wine. We learn to recognize the region a wine comes from by the bottle – Alsace wines are served in a long, thin bottle, and that France has official appellations that wines and cheeses can use – so Champagne must be from Champagne, Bordeaux from Bordeaux.  I may not have become a wine expert, but all the wines we enjoy are of superior quality and significantly, are paired so perfectly with the food.

Each European Waterways cruise features a private wine tasting. We visit Lissner Winery to learn about pioneering sustainable practices © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we arrive back from an afternoon tour, we are welcomed aboard with some sort of cocktail –one day it is Mimosa, another it is French 75 (an elderberry gin spritzer).

We are small enough group that our wishes are usually accommodated – Hylton, who comes from Australia, expresses a desire for steak and Sue, his wife, wishes for passionfruit crème brulee – and don’t you know, we have both for lunch – with Leo doing a cooking demonstration in the morning as we cruise to show how he creates the crème brulee. It is a first for him creating crème brulee with passionfruit and he takes it as a sort of challenge. We watch him create it, with his precise weighing and measuring, and, later, just before serving, firing it up with a torch.

Chef Leo, assisted by Captain Brian gives us a cooking demonstration of his passionfruit creme brulee as we cruise on the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, the one evening we dine in a pleasant village restaurant, the meal, although very good, does not compare with Chef Leo’s creations. Clearly, we have been spoiled in just these few days.

Captain Brian gives us the safety talk – noting that some of the bridges we go under are so low, we will have to sit down and the bridge has to be taken down; the canals are so narrow, with barely an inch on either side, we need to keep hands inside the boat. And don’t block the navigator’s view of the crossbars at the front of the boat. There are life jackets, an emergency red call button in our cabins (don’t use it to call for a sandwich, it will wake everyone). And another thing, Captain Brian insists: never say the name of the animal with the bushy tail and big ears and eats carrots on a boat – it’s bad luck.

Head down, hands in the boat. Cruising the Marne-Rhin Canal through France’s Alsace & Lorraine requires skill – with only inches to spare to get through the locks and bridges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For such a small contingent, we bring an interesting variety as well as commonality. One couple is from Australia where they have an 8000-hectare farm (8 km across); another couple is from Australia as well, where he was a wine salesman and since retiring, teaches water aerobics (I have to mention he is 95 and has the body of a fit man half his age); another couple is from Minnesota who also have a farm; another couple comes from Georgia where he is a lawyer and she was a county commissioner. (All of us happen to be senior citizens but young couples, families and solo travelers would enjoy the cruise, and it is possible to charter.)

This first evening, Chef Leo’s talents become apparent: a carrot and orange salad to start with a kind of pesto sauce that surprises with flavor; roasted seabass with leek and champagne sauce, and dessert of peach tart. This evening the wines include Famille Hugel, an Alsace Pinot Blanc, 2019, and an Alsace red, Boitt Geyl Pinot Noir, 2017 (producing wines since 1775!), that pair superbly with the flavors.

The meal finishes with three cheeses: Camembert, “King of Cheeses,” from Normandy, with a golden color and buttery texture and a strong aroma (“We serve it on the first night to get it out of the refrigerator”); Morbier, a cow cheese from Franche-Comte, which traces back to the 1800s and, legend has it, a method of disguising the size of the cheese within charcoal in order to avoid paying tax; and Selles-sur-Cher, a goat cheese from the Loire Valley which, we learn is a cheese deprived of light and oxygen for 38 weeks, and is served in an edible rind.

Notably, Chef Leo doesn’t necessarily pre-arrange his menus in advance because he purchases his items fresh, bursting with flavor.

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache, in Strasbourg, where we can just step off the boat to explore the city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotel barging offers an immersive and all-inclusive “gentle voyage of discovery” of the culture, history, fine wine, and gourmet cuisine of the destinations. You cruise right into villages, step off the boat, and can wander into neighborhoods and countrysides, where people live.

European Waterways, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding by Derek Banks and John Wood-Dow this year, was one of the early pioneers of hotel barging on France’s canals. They helped ignite a new niche the travel industry and cruising that proved instrumental in the revitalization of Europe’s intricate network of scenic canals and inland waterways as tourism destinations. Like our Erie Canal of New York State, these canals were no longer being used for commercial shipping; tourism and recreational boating has revitalized them, and the villages along the route.
 

European Waterways’ hotel barge, Panache, moored for the night in the charming village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn in the Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This fascinating network of smaller canals allows for flexibility, spontaneity and ample opportunity to hop off and explore the beautiful surroundings by bicycle or on foot. The itineraries are built around daily, chauffeured excursions “off the beaten path” to wine tastings and visits to stately homes, historic and cultural treasures.

Panache cruises in Holland in the spring when the flowers are in full bloom, and in Champagne in May & June (Champagne itineraries typically include Brie cheese tastings, a tour of the Cathedral at Reims, Epernay and tastings at renowned champagne houses). In summer and autumn, Panache cruises the Alsace & Lorraine.

European Waterways launched its first Christmas Markets Cruises aboard Panache in 2023 in the Alsace & Lorraine region of France. This 6-night/7-day luxury barge cruise visits the Christmas Markets of Strasbourg, Colmar, and Haugenau,  a chocolate museum, a glass bauble factory which is said to be the home of the traditional tree decoration (For more information, visit https://www.europeanwaterways.com/themed/christmas-market-cruises/)

With a fleet of 18 (with the recent launch of its ultra deluxe vessel, Kir Royale), that span nine countries, European Waterways is one of the largest luxury hotel barging companies in Europe.

European Waterways, 1-877-879-8808, www.europeanwaterways.com.

Next: The Panache Visits Strasbourg

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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

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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 

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling Through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter

The Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam Hotel is set in the heart of Amsterdam’s historic district, a short walk to the Jewish Quarter, and walking distance to Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam, I pick up a sheet detailing a walking tour through the Jewish Cultural Quarter which features 37 points (Rembrandthuis and the Waterlooplein flea market are included) and 12 museums, monuments and memorials. It is supposed to take about 90 minutes.

I go off to follow much of the list – which is most interesting because you go into this historic neighborhood where you almost hear the voices of the people who lived there, certainly feel their presence. It feels a bit like time travel.

Across the street from the Jewish Museum, which is housed in four former synagogues including the Great Synagogue, is one of the most beautiful and grandest synagogues of the world, the Portuguese Synagogue. Dating from 1675 (just four years after the Great Synagogue which is across the street), this Sephardic synagogue is in fact a whole religious complex with the synagogue, archives, a mortuary, and a library.

Known as The Esnoga, the Portuguese Synagogue was designed by Elias Bouman, who had also helped design the Great Synagogue of the Ashkenazim across the road. Elias Bouman later became the city’s chief architect. The colossal building dominated its surroundings then, as it still does today. When finished, it was the largest synagogue in the world. And even centuries ago, was a tourist attraction. (Mr. Visserplein 3, jck.nl/en/longread/portuguese-synagogue

Entrance to the Portuguese Synagogue, the world’s largest and most ornate synagogue and a tourist attraction since it was first built in the 17th century, still conducts religious service so was closed to visitors on Saturday © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Portuguese Synagogue is still used for religious services (it’s Saturday so I don’t get to go inside), but on most days you can buy a ticket to see inside. It is renowned for its exquisite 17th century interior.  There are also smaller buildings in the complex where there are “treasure chambers” displaying ceremonial objects of silver, gold, brocade and silk. The synagogue also hosts frequent candlelight concerts. (I experienced an extraordinary concert at the Spanish Synagogue in Prague at the start of my European odyssey.)

The Great Synagogue was destroyed in the Holocaust (it was restored and turned into a museum in 1961), but the Portuguese Synagogue was saved apparently because Hitler wanted to leave a trace of the vanished nation (I was told much the same about how Prague’s Jewish Quarter managed to survive.)

The world’s oldest functioning Jewish library, Ets Haim Livraria Montezinos, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, is also here in the Portuguese Synagogue (Mr. Visserplein 3). The library has more than 25.000 books and 560 manuscripts in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Arabic and Yiddish in its collection. Some of the manuscripts date to13th C. (An appointment is required to visit: for a guided tour phone: +31 20 531 03 80; researchers call +31 20 531 03 98).

Outside the Portuguese Synagogue is the Jonas Daniel Meijerplain, a square named for Jonas Daniel Meijer who in 1796 became the first Dutch Jew to receive a doctoral degree. He was a leader in the Jewish struggle for emancipation and equal rights (which was won in 1796). There are Stolpersteine (small memorial plaques) in front of houses that are along the square (nos. 13, 15, 19) that bear the names of Jews who lived there and were murdered by the Nazis. (I saw these Stolpersteines in Dordrecht, as well.)

In the square is the February Protest Monument commemorating the strike of the Amsterdam dock workers on February 24, 1941, to protest persecution of Jews. The strike has been followed by protest actions all over the city: in public transport, schools and in some companies. Strike actions also took place in several cities around Amsterdam and in Utrecht. Although the Nazi administration, which invaded the Netherlands in 1940, managed to suppress the strike within just a few days, killing nine of the protesters, injuring many and perpetuating several other ruthless actions, the open protest against the Nazis had the symbolic importance for all people in the Netherlands. The monument represents a striking worker called “De Dokwerker”. The sculpture is by Mari Andriessen, a sculptor who during the war refused membership of the Nazi-led artist union and hid Jewish friends at his home to save them from death.

A walking tour through Amsterdam’s Jewish District makes you look closely at structure to see their Jewish origins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walking tour takes me to what was the Ashkenazi Jewish Girls Orphanage, which from 1863-1943 was where these orphaned girls received religious education. In the Holocaust, 80 were deported to concentration camps.

The Plancius/Resistance museum, was where the Jewish choral society, Oxfening Baart Kunst (Practice Makes Perfect) was established in 1876; it has been the site of the Dutch Resistance Museum since 1999.

The De Castro Pharmacy is Amsterdam’s oldest apothecary (1832). Daniel Henriques de Castro was not only an apothecary but also an administrator of the Portuguese Synagogue and a glass engraver.

The Pinto House (Sint Antoniebreestraat 69), was built in 1603, bought by the wealthy Jewish merchant Isaac de Pinto in 1651 and rebuilt by his son David Emanuel in 1686 with the broad classical facade. Devastated in 20th C. and saved from a demolition, it is a public library today.

I go to the Walter Suskind Bridge – fairly nondescript – named for Walter Suskind (1906-1945) who was the head of Jewish staff of the Hollandsche Schauwburg and in this capacity saved hundreds of Jewish children from deportation and murder.

(Gassan Diamonds is also here in the Jewish Quarter and had an important role in the Jewish community. I book a free tour for the next morning at its website, https://www.gassan.com/en/tours/gassan-historical-tour)

A walking tour through Amsterdam’s Jewish District makes you look closely at structure to see their Jewish origins © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I visit as many of the sites as I can, and finally come to the National Holocaust Memorial, which only opened in September 2021. It’s the first in the Netherlands to name all 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis during World War II.  Designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Liebeskind, the 102,000 bricks, each bearing the name of a victim, form the shape of four Hebrew letters meaning “in memory of.” 

The National Holocaust Memorial, Amsterdam, keeps alive the memory of the 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I estimate there are 32 rows of 50 bricks just named DeVries. I note some of the names: Frouwkevn Mandenburg Gosschalk, Rooje van Maagdenburg-Frank, Maas, Magtige, Maij – very Dutch, with some of these families I would bet having lived in Amsterdam for hundreds of years. The name plaques seem to go on forever.

Of the 107,000 deported to concentration camps, only 5200 Jews and 30 Santi and Roma survived.

“A warning for all generations, all over the world and in the future,” a plaque reads.

The National Holocaust Memorial, Amsterdam, keeps alive the memory of the 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to reporting of the event, the memorial was unveiled by King Willem-Alexander and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

“Last year marked the first time an official in the Netherlands publicly apologized on behalf of the government for the war-time persecution of Jews, after Rutte admitted little was done to protect them from the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.” (https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-holocaust-memorial-opens-after-years-long-legal-deadlock/a-59231217)

The National Holocaust Memorial, Amsterdam, keeps alive the memory of the 102,000 Dutch Jews, Sinti and Roma who were killed by the Nazis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tickets to all the Jewish Cultural Quarter exhibits may be purchased at any of the participating institutions. Adults – € 12 ; young people age 13 -17, students, Stadspas – € 6 ; children age up to 13; free admission is provided with the Amsterdam Holland Pass, iAmsterdam Pass, Museum Card, Friends of The Jewish Historical Museum, ICOM, Rembrandt Association. Tickets to the Jewish Historical Quarter are valid 1 month for a multiple access to all exhibits. Tickets to concerts at the Portuguese Synagogue: € 13.50.

You can also sign up for a walking tour with a knowledgeable, personal guide (see www.amsterdam.info/jewish/).

“Night Watch” at Rijksmuseum

By now, it is time for me to walk over to the Rijksmuseum for my timed ticket, which brings me through more of the neighborhoods that seem so far removed in time and place from what I had just experienced.

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” can be seen through glass where it is undergoing conservation at the Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The big attraction at the Rijksmuseum (I only have two hours before closing) is Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” painting (I hadn’t realized it is the size of an entire wall), and you get to see it as it is being conserved, behind a glass-enclosed studio.  A docent is there to answer questions about it.

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” can be seen through glass where it is undergoing conservation at the Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Rembrandthuis, I was told that this painting was one of the reasons that Rembrandt went bankrupt – the three benefactors who paid the most for the painting are not shown prominently, and they conveyed their discontent so that Rembrandt lost commissions. The docent disputes this and points out that was a decade between the painting and his bankruptcy.

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch” can be seen through glass where it is undergoing conservation at the Rijksmuseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By now, I have to get to my COVID19 test that I scheduled, so I get to discover more neighborhoods. As it turns out, the clinic is across the way from Amsterdam’s science museum, along the boulevard that would go to the Central Station. The process is extremely efficient (shortly after, the United States halted requiring COVID tests within 24 hours of entering the country.)

On the way back to Sofitel Legend Grand Amsterdam Hotel, I find myself walking through the Red Light District, jam-packed with people. Here you can also visit museums to Erotica, Prostitution, assorted peep shows and museums devoted to  Hash, Marijuana and Hemp . Even the public toilet is titillatingly called the “Sexy Loo.”

Here you find posters on the bridges warning of fines for peeing in the canal or taking alcohol out of the district, and as the evening grows later, more and more police presence.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District is legendary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is legendary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Diamonds!

The next morning, before I have to get to the airport (and after enjoying a terrific breakfast at the Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam Hotel), I tour the Gassan Diamonds, a historic place which had great importance in the Jewish Quarter. 

Gassan Diamonds is housed in a diamond factory that was built in 1879 by the Boas brothers, and at the time was the largest diamond factory in Europe. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

Initially, Jews were not permitted into Amsterdam’s guilds, so the only occupations that were open to them were street trading (hence the giant flea market at Waterlooplein), financing, book printing and diamond cutting. In the 19th century many Jews worked in the flourishing diamond trade and industry.

Amsterdam has been famous for its diamonds since the 16th century, and after 400 years, the city is still regarded as a diamond trading center of the world. The popular brilliant-cut with 57 facets which was developed in Amsterdam is known as the “Amsterdam-cut”.

There are about a dozen diamond factories in Amsterdam left, five which offer guided tours.

Gassan Diamonds has played a pivotal role in Amsterdam’s diamond history, as well as in Jewish life in Amsterdam. The diamond factory was built in 1879 by the Boas brothers, and at the time was the largest diamond factory in Europe. It was shut down during World War II, and resurrected by Samuel Gassan, whose father actually worked there as a diamond cutter.

Samuel Gassan stayed in Switzerland until the end of the war, became a captain in the British Army. Working in the repatriation service, he helped children of diamond workers who had lost their parents and who had been held captive in Bergen-Belsen, return to the Netherlands.

In October 1945, having returned to Amsterdam, Samuel, now 35, opened his own diamond trading company, Firma Gassan, in the Diamond Exchange on the Wesperplein. He traveled all over Europe selling his diamonds. Five years later he owned his own diamond cutting factory on the Zwanenburgerstraat.

You can sign up for a free tour of Gassan Diamonds to see diamond polishers at work © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the tour, we get to see the diamond polishers at their craft, while a guide explains how they turn rough diamonds into dazzling brilliants. And Gassan has taken the “Amsterdam cut” to a new level, patenting the technique of the Gassan 121 diamond – a diamond cut with 121 facets to dazzling effect.

I am taken into a room where, even though it is Sunday morning, there are a couple of people polishing diamonds. My guide explains the three-step process: cutting (phosphorous blade, rotates 6400/min,  coated with olive oil and diamond dust because only a diamond can cut diamond; shaping and elevating sharp edges (not sparkling yet); and third, polishing with olive oil and diamond dust to make facet. Facets are what make the diamond clear and sparkling.

It takes 3 to 4 working days to prepare one diamond.

A brilliant cut has 57 facets (33 on top, 24 on bottom), which originated in Amsterdam and is known as the “Amsterdam cut.” But, she explains, Gassan (pioneered and patented) a 121-facet diamond with exponentially more refraction (no one else can sell 121 facets)

Luna, diamond polisher for three years, is able to work on half-carat diamonds as she works up to becoming a master. It takes 3-4 days to finish a diamond, but you can order one, have it set and have it within 30-60 minutes of your visit to Gassan Diamonds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luna, who I watch polishing a diamond, has had 3 years experience (it takes two years to learn basics, 10-20 years to perfect, and by the time you are ready to retire, you are a master). A half carat is the biggest diamond she has worked on, she tells me.

All the rough diamonds that come to the Antwerp bourse must have a certificate that they are not conflict diamonds. Diamonds come from all over the world and are found everywhere but Australia, Canada, India, and China, she tells me.

This 1879 building is long and narrow because it was built before electricity, so the workers were dependent upon natural light, and used steam system (you can see the pipes).

Names of Jewish diamond workers etched with diamond in glass are preserved at Gassan Diamonds © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In a display case are old pieces of glass with names etched with diamond into it. “This was a Jewish neighborhood and a Jewish company,” she tells me. “A lot of Jews worked here. During World War II, most were killed, so we keep the glass with their names. Gassan’s own father was a diamond worker in the factory here. After the war, Samuel acquired the old factory.

My guide takes me into a small room to explains the different elements that go into the quality (and price) of a diamond – carats, colors, clarity, cuts and, of course, the ultimate Gassan 121- and fortunately, you can buy here at factory price (and get the 16% tax refunded at airport). ”You can choose a diamond today, choose setting and it will be ready within 30 to 60 minutes – ring, necklace, earrings.” You can also peruse the jewelry store, filled with luxury items.

Gassan also offers a VIP tour through the diamond factory and the in-house Rolex boutique which includes a glass of champagne, a goodie bag and the chance to chat with a certified Rolex watchmaker. Or you can take a seat behind the grinder yourself with the Diamond Polishing Experience, where you can apply the final facets to your own diamond! 

Gassan Diamonds, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 173-175, www.gassan.com/en/tours/gassan-historical-tour

I time it so I get back to the Sofitel Legend Grand Amsterdam hotel so I can take the tour of this fascinating place that played such an important role in Holland’s history, and still have time for one last walk through the historic district to Amsterdam’s Central Station. It’s a hop-skip-jump on the train to Schiphol Airport (2nd class ticket does just fine), all of about 15 minutes ride.

Amsterdam’s Central Station. It’s just about 15-20 minutes and very inexpensive ticket to get to Schiphol Airport on the train © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pre-purchase the I AmsterdamCity Card, which provides access to the city’s major highlights and more than 70 museums, city-wide public transport, a canal cruise and bicycle rental. You also get discounts at restaurants, attractions and concerts. https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/i-am/i-amsterdam-city-card iamsterdam.com.

Plan your visit at www.iamsterdam.com/en.

See also:

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam: Historic Hotel that Played Major Role in History

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling in the Jewish Quarter

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling Through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter

__________________

© 2022 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

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling in the Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Museum shows how the community lived for 350 years in Amsterdam with very vivid and detailed personal stories that still resonate today © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have cleverly arranged an extra day in Amsterdam after the eight-day BoatBikeTours Bruges-to Amsterdam bike trip, and I can’t afford to miss a minute. So after checking into my five-star luxury historic hotel, Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam Hotel, marveling at my room (actually a suite), and having the concierge help purchase a timed ticket to the Rijksmuseum, I immediately set out.

In fact, I realize too late that it was necessary to pre-purchase timed tickets to major sites in Amsterdam – Anne Frank House is booked (you have to purchase weeks in advance). So I set out myself to see as much as I could – and in the course of the day, wind up exploring on foot just about all Amsterdam’s historic district neighborhoods. And since I can’t get into the Anne Frank House, I head to the Jewish Quarter (the Anne Frank House is not actually in the Jewish Quarter), which proves a wonderful and satisfying adventure in many ways.

Rembrandt van Rijn’s was doing well when he bought this townhouse, which may surprise people to learn is on a street that used to be in the center of Jewish life in Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My first stop is most remarkable: The Rembrandt House. This is Rembrandt van Rijn’s actual townhouse, which may surprise people to learn is on a street that used to be in the center of Jewish life in Amsterdam. Although Rembrandt was not Jewish, his paintings often reflect his life among the Jews in the city – scenes from the Old Testament and many portraits of the Jewish people who lived around him. But what is most remarkable are the insights into this master’s life and work and even his creative process as you go around the house, essentially restored and furnished in the way it was, when he lived here. The Rembrandthuis presents Rembrandt’s life, his epoch, an interesting collection of paintings by his contemporaries and his prints.

Rembrandt captured scenes of neighborhood life. His townhouse was in the Jewish Quarter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rembrandt was doing well when he bought this townhouse, but when his fortunes turned and the house was sold, his possessions were inventoried – the museum recreates the house from that inventory as well as Rembrandt’s drawings, so they knew what was in specific rooms; the audio tour notes the objects (and you can get even more detail on many of the objects). 

It is utterly fascinating to be in this space – his bedroom, his printing room (where you can lift leather coverings and see original etchings), his studio, his salon (actually a sales room). I learned that Rembrandt was an art dealer, and would have entertained clients in this parlor where there are a number of paintings on the wall as there would have been.

Rembrandt’s salon where he would have entertained art clients. As an art dealer, he sold works by his pupils, Flemish and Italian artists and Dutch masters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rembrandt “would receive his clients with a glass of chilled wine from a marble wine cooler. On the walls hung dozens of paintings from which the client could choose. Rembrandt sold his own works and works by his many pupils. He also dealt in paintings by other masters. This was common practice among artists at this time. Rembrandt had Flemish and Italian works in stock, but most of the paintings were by Dutch masters.”

You walk through with your own audio device which gives a really excellent tour (allocate at least an hour), and notes the personal aspects, and you can point the sensor to a number and hear more details, like about the painting of an old man with bears, which was by one of his students).

Rembrandt’s bed chamber. Rembrandt House recreates how he would have lived based on an inventory and his paintings © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We know from paintings his wife was lying on the bed – she died at 29 giving birth to their son.”

As a display of Rembrandt’s affluence, his townhouse had a stove, which was an innovation of the time © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the kitchen, we see a stove which would have been an innovation in his day.

Rembrandt was “a ground-breaking etcher” as we see in the printing room at Rembrandt House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rembrandt was ‘a ground-breaking etcher” and my favorite room is his print shop where we can see original etchings (they are put under leather covers in a darkened room to best preserve them, and are rotated every three months ). It is absolutely thrilling to see.

Rembrandt was “a ground-breaking etcher” as we see in the printing room at Rembrandt House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We go into a studio where Rembrandt taught art students – you could have been a Rembrandt pupil for 50 guilders a month (he had 40 students). “They would already have had a basis in art.”  

Visit Rembrandt’s studio at the Rembrandt House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rembrandt had two mistresses after his wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, died at the age of 29, giving birth to their son.

Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait with Saskia,” his wife © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The first was his housekeeper and nanny to his son and they developed an intimate relationship. She wanted to marry; Rembrandt couldn’t because under the terms of his (wealthier, noble) wife’s will, his inheritance would have reverted to her other relatives. So when he couldn’t marry, she sued him for a very large amount of alimony. He had her committed to a madhouse for five years.

Then he met Hendrickje Stoffels, very much younger than Rembrandt. They had a loving relationship, had children, and were together for 15 years until she died at the age of 38.

Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rembrandt had 16 children but only three  – a son and two daughters – survived to adulthood. His son became an art dealer, and after Rembrandt’s bankruptcy, rented a house for himself and father and his mistress, Hendrickje Stoffels. His son died one year before Rembrandt.

I ask how Rembrandt went bankrupt. “He spent too much. Also, ‘Nightwatch’ – the three people who paid the most for the painting were not well represented in the painting; it went around that Rembrandt wasn’t a good portrait painter and he lost commissions (100G, equivalent to yearly salary). With commissions down, he went bankrupt.” [Later, I get to ask the docent at the Rijksmuseum when I visit “Nightwatch” who disputes this account.]

The Rembrandt House museum has a broad collection of Rembrandt’s works, but only a small portion is on view at any one time (they rotate to preserve the art).

Small Studio, which Rembrandt used as a workplace for his students. There were partitions bere four to five pupils could work with good light © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the modern building that is attached, there are exhibitions of modern artists reinterpreting Rembrandt’s concept of painting people as they are, not idealized. (I don’t care for them at all).

I realize that though I so admired Rembrandt, I actually knew very little about who he was. You come away seeing, understanding Rembrandt in such a different light as you tour his house.

Rembrandt House, Jodenbreestraat 4, 1011 NK Amsterdam, +31 (0)20 520 0400, [email protected], www.rembrandthuis.nl/en/.

It’s Saturday and just near the Rembrandthuis there is a regular – and massive – Waterlooplein (Waterloo square) flea market, started ages ago by Jewish peddlers (one of the few occupations allowed to Jews) and today is the largest flea market in Amsterdam. It’s definitely fun to visit (www.amsterdam.info/markets/waterlooplein/)

Waterlooplein flea market, started ages ago by Jewish peddlers (one of the few occupations allowed to Jews) is the largest flea market in Amsterdam today © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even this early in the tourist season, Amsterdam seems pretty crowded with visitor s (especially in the Red Light District), but I set out to explore more of the historic Jewish Quarter where I find myself on a sort of hunt to locate sites. It seems more the “real Amsterdam” – less impacted by tourists – where I can time travel.

Peering Back at 350 Years in the Jewish Quarter

The Jodenbuurt (Jewish Quarter) was inhabited by the Jewish community for 350 years, from the late 16th century up to the Holocaust.

Jewish people, culture and religion became an important element of life in Amsterdam from the early 1600s. Several countries in Europe guided by the Catholic Church, starting from the 13th C, had laws aimed at expelling Jews. During the counter-reformation in the 16th C, persecutions of Jews increased. While subject to many restrictions, Jews were permitted to settle in Amsterdam and peacefully observe their religion.

In 1593, a century after the Spanish Inquisition, Sephardic Jews from Portugal and Spain settled in this neighborhood of Amsterdam. In the course of the 17th century Ashkenazi Jews from Central, Eastern, and parts of Western Europe also moved into the district. By 1602, the Jews started to build their first synagogues. And in the centuries that followed, many more synagogues opened.

The absolutely best place to start my odyssey is the Jewish Museum (previously known as the Jewish Historical Museum) 

The Jewish Museum is the only museum in the Netherlands that focuses on Jewish history, religion and culture. The museum is set in a group of four 17th and 18th century Ashkenazi synagogues at the heart of the former Jewish quarter in the centre of Amsterdam. The permanent exhibition follows several themes: the role of religion and tradition, the links with Israel, the persecution of Jews during the Second World War, personal life stories and the mutual influence of Jewish and Dutch culture.

The main part of the museum is housed in the stunning Great Synagogue, the Ashkenazi “Gathering Place” that dates from 1671. The exhibits here are enlightening and inspiring.

Jewish Museum is more focused on the 350-year long history of Jews in Amsterdam. it’s about their migration and integration into Holland, though the period from 1900 to present is also on display in a very moving way, how they integrated into Dutch society, and how they thrived and contributed to the community when restrictions were lifted.

It’s a museum of stories and surprises – it’s uncanny how much personal information they have to connect with the portraits and personal effects on view – so much more meaningful than looking at paintings and artifacts. I especially loved seeing these gorgeous portraits of Jewish Amsterdamers from the 17th and 18th centuries, – how they looked like any other Amsterdamer of the time, a testament to how secular and assimilated people can come when they are free to interact in the broader society.

Some of Rembrandt’s etchings of his Jewish neighbors are on display at the Jewish Museum with amazing personal detail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here you see Rembrandt etchings of his Jewish neighbors but with canny personal detail. So attached to Rembrandt’s etching of a distinguished looking man, we learn, “This is the Sephardi doctor Ephraim Bueno (1599-1665). When he was a child, he and his parents fled Portugal to Bordeaux where studied medicine, then later settled in Amsterdam. Father and son gained a good reputation as doctors, both in Jewish and non-Jewish circles. Ephraim Bueno lived near Rembrandt, who etched his likeness.”

“This is the Sephardi doctor Ephraim Bueno (1599-1665). When he was a child, he and his parents fled Portugal to Bordeaux where studied medicine, then later settled in Amsterdam. Father and son gained a good reputation as doctors, both in Jewish and non-Jewish circles. Ephraim Bueno lived near Rembrandt, who etched his likeness.”

Amsterdam, a legendarily liberal city for sex, drugs (as today), was also comparatively liberal for Jews back in the day. William of Orange fought a revolution for religious freedom from Catholic Spain. Jews won comparative emancipation in the Netherlands in 1796.

The combination of economic success and a relatively tolerant religious environment – unusual in Europe – made Amsterdam attractive to foreigners.

Portuguese “New Christians” – descendents from the Jews from Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert but practiced secretly – found that here in Amsterdam, Jews could practice without having to wear distinguishing marks or live in ghetto. We meet several (in portraits) who took up again their Jewish lives once they settled in Amsterdam.

“Sephardi nobility: Antonio Lopes Suasso was one of the Republic’s richest merchants. He was born in Bordeaux and, as a son of New Christians, was baptized a roman Catholic. He moved to Amsterdam in 1654, where he began to live as a Jew. He continued trading with various countries, including with Catholic Spain, and provided important financial services to the Spanish king, Charles II. After the king elevated him to the nobility in 1676, Antonio was awarded the title Baron d’Avernas-le-Gras (c. 1700)”

Amsterdam at the start of 18th C developed into the biggest, most important Jewish city in world. No other city had the synagogues of the size and majesty of the Great Synagogue and Portuguese Synagogue (the largest synagogue in the world) – which served as a symbol of liberation enjoyed by Jews here.

“Two historical synagogues: the Majestic Askenazi Great Synagogue (left) and the Portuguese Synagogue were consecrated in 1671 and 1675 respectively. The two buildings symbolized the permanent establishment of the Jewish communities in Amsterdam. Gerrit Berckheyde (1638-1698), c. 1675-1680.

You walk through to another building, also a former synagogue, where the exhibit basically tells the “modern” story of Jews here, from 1900 to the present, and especially, the horrifying history of what happened to real people before, during and after the Holocaust.

When Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, there were 80,000 Jews living in Amsterdam (- approximately 10% of the city population. Throughout the years of German occupation not many survived. Almost all were deported and exterminated in Nazi concentration camps.

When the Nazis came, Jews tried to hide in basements, attics, secret rooms. Anne Frank is best known because of her diary.

Some 25,000 Jews went into hiding, of whom 18,000 survived, the rest were discovered or betrayed. ”Those in hiding often received help from non-Jewish acquaintances. Later on, resistance organizations set up a system: besides hiding places, they supplied ration cards and forged identity papers and arranged means of transport.

Sign: ‘Voor joden verboden’: Almost immediately after the Germans occupied the Netherlands in May 1940, they began taking anti-Jewish measures. Their goal was to isolate the Jewish population. In January 1941, all Jews were required to register. The first razzias (raids) took place soon after and were intended to instill fear. Other measures followed in rapid succession: Jews were barred from many occupations; they had to turn over their savings; Jewish children could no longer attend state schools; Jews were not allowed to make telephone calls, visit non-Jews, drive cars… From 15 September 1941, Jews could no longer enter parks, zoos, cafes, restaurants, hotels, theatres and museums. Signs reading ‘Voor joden verboden’ (No Jews allowed) appeared all over the country., This one was posted in the Haagse Bos, a park in the Hague.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hiding places ranged from back rooms and converted cupboards to sheds and ditches and carefully concealed holes in the ground. Jewish children were sometimes given new identities and assimilated into non-Jewish foster families.” Some were successful, most found out, betrayed, or gave up. On average, Jews in hiding paid 100 guilders a month for protection.

Some 30,000 Dutch Jews out of 140,000 survived the war, most of them by going into hiding. After the war ended only 5,200 Jews returned to Amsterdam from the camps, and the life of the city changed forever.

“Their repatriation to the Netherlands was a laborious process and they met with a cold and bureaucratic reception in their home country. Jews who returned were… scarcely received any support in trying to rebuild their lives. Survivors often had nothing left – their relatives and friends had been murdered and their possessions stolen. The government declined to take any measures to address the specific problems of the Jewish population, arguing that they did not wish to discriminate as the German occupying forces had done…. There was little interest in or understanding for the plight of survivors among the Dutch population, which was coping with its own poverty and distress.”

The perspective you get at the Jewish Museum is unusual – to see how the community lived for 350 years in Amsterdam and then the aftermath holds lessons for today. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The perspective you get at the Jewish Museum is unusual – to see how the community lived for 350 years and then the aftermath holds lessons for today.

Today Jewish Amsterdam community numbers 20,000 persons, is well organized, has a rich religious and cultural life, nevertheless the old Jewish Amsterdam belongs to history.

The Jewish Museum also manages the Hollandsche Schouwburg, the Holocaust Memorial. The former theater was used during the Nazi occupation as a deportation center for Jews. Today it is a monument to the memory of those who died, with a special exhibition for school children. (It is being renovated with reopening expected beginning 2023). https://www.amsterdam.info/jewish/hollandsche_schouwburg/

At the Jewish Museum, I pick up a sheet describing a walking tour through the Jewish Cultural Quarter. I go off to follow much of the list. It is like a mystery tour, peeking back in time to people’s lives.

Jewish Museum, Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1, www.amsterdam.info/museums/jewish_historical_museum/. More information and to purchase tickets online, at www.jck.nl/en.

See also:

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam: Historic Hotel that Played Major Role in History

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling in the Jewish Quarter

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling Through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter

__________________

© 2022 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

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam: Historic Hotel that Played Major Role in History

Rarely do you find a historic hotel that played such an integral role in a nation’s history as the Sofitel Legend Grand Hotel Amsterdam, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I march myself from the Princesse Royal, the ship that has been my floating hotel for the eight-day BoatBikeTours’ Bruges to Amsterdam bike trip the few steps from where we are docked to the free ferry to Amsterdam’s Central Station and into Amsterdam’s historic city center and on to the hotel Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam.

The level of service, luxury and elegance in this five-star hotel makes you feel you are staying in a palace, and frankly, it was, as I soon learn on the hotel’s daily tour.

I always seek out historic hotels when I travel because they tend to be so much more interesting, so connected to place, so full of personality, character and yes, authenticity, but rarely have I stayed in a hotel that played such an integral role in a nation’s  history.

A hotel only since 1992, the original buildings and tower that have been repurposed  for The Grand were built in 1411 and actually were two convents – one on the northern side and one on the southern side, with canals on both.

The Princenhof (still the name) at the Sofitel Legend Grand Amsterdam has accommodated  Maria de’ Medici, Queen of France, and William of Orange © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1578, with the success of William of Orange’s revolt against Catholic Spain, Protestantism swept the Netherlands and Amsterdam. The two convents were given to the city.  The northern side was empty for a time, but the southern building became the Royal residence – The Princenhof (still the name). The Maria de’ Medici, Queen of France, and William of Orange himself stayed here at some point.

In 1652, after a fire at Dam Square destroyed the building  where the Council met, they moved into the northern part of the building, which served as the Council Chamber for three years until Dam Square was renovated (the room is still set up as a Council Chamber).

In 1655, the powerful Dutch East India Trading Company made this their headquarters. The company, which set up trade, exploration and colonization around the globe, functioned as a military power, government, and even agricultural producer and helped make this small nation a global power, from 1602 to 1800. (A little research reveals the Dutch had an advantage in resources because they were on the cutting edge of capitalism. The Dutch East India Company had a more successful strategy because of sound money, an efficient tax system and a system of public debt by which the government could borrow from its citizens at low interest rates. See https://www.theindiaforum.in/article/what-made-east-india-company-so-successful)

In 1808, the French took over and Napoleon installed his brother, Louis Napoleon, as King of Netherlands. He wanted Dam Square for his palace, so the Council came back to this building for the next 108 years (until as recently as 1988, which explains why the room is still set up as a Council chamber.)

A portion of the five-story high stained glass window by Roland Holst (1868-1938), given to the city of Amsterdam in 1925 by the city of Rotterdam on the occasion of the capital’s 650th anniversary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see an astonishing five-story high wall of stained glass by Roland Holst (1868-1938), given to the city of Amsterdam in 1925 by the city of Rotterdam on the occasion of the capital’s 650th anniversary. The first nine stained windows present the founder of Amsterdam, Gijsbrecht van Amstel. The others depict dike constructors, fishermen, floral patterns, symbols of trade, education and jurisdiction. There are three crosses of Amsterdam symbolizing fire (a lot of fires afflicted the city); water (the city is below sea level) and plague (to show respect for people).

The Wedding Chamber at the Sofitel Legend Grand Amsterdam Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Wedding Chamber at the hotel Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Wedding Chamber at the hotel Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1925, the Wedding Chamber was painted with a most magnificent Art Deco series of murals that our guide, Donna van der Heul, of guest relations, relates, tell the story of a couple who meets, are seduced in a sneaky way (symbolized by a snake), stay true, meet each other (there is a little flame between their legs), become engaged (the flame becomes bigger), a wedding showing the happy couple. Another panel shows the couple with a child with a flame of her own, and another panel shows them as an old couple, still together. (We have to rush through the chamber because a wedding is getting underway shortly).

Princess Beatrix and Prince Klaus then were married here in 1966 before the Sofitel Legend Grand was a hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We visit the Council Chamber (which looks like parliament). Princess Beatrix and Prince Klaus  (the present king’s parents) in 1966 and you can see a photo of their wedding .

The Council Chambers was used for 108 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We visit the beautifully decorated Oriole Garden Bistro where there is a mural that was painted in 1949 when the building was City Hall. Titled, “Inquisitive Children,” by artist Karel Appel,  it depicts begging, crying children, with sad eyes, in the aftermath of World War II’s human destruction.  “The Council Staff thought it would make people feel uncomfortable so they put it behind a wall. But when the building became a hotel and the painting was found, the artist, Karel Appel, had by then become a famous painter. They had Appel sign it and repair the painting.  Now it is behind glass and doesn’t look sad,” our guide relates.

“Inquisitive Children,” by artist Karel Appel, is now proudly displayed at the entrance to the Oriole Garden Bistro © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She also points out the marble floor with pieces that are arranged with a “book marking” design that form a butterfly, so the butterfly images and theme is around hotel .

The Princenhof – once the royal residence – is used for meetings. Obviously an immensely popular venue for weddings, the hotel has its own florist and wedding planner.

The hotel Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam is set on a historic canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Located between two historical canals in the heart of the historic city, the hotel Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam has turned its pedigree from a 15th century convent to royal residence to Dutch admiralty headquarters to Amsterdam’s city hall, into a five-star luxury hotel with a particular “Amsterdam” ambiance, French elegance and grandeur. You feel the five-star luxury in every aspect of the hotel, from the moment you check in. The lordly complex became a hotel in 1992.

The bar at The Grand © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It offers the restaurant Bridges, the Oriole Garden Bistro serving Mediterranean-style cuisine, the Garden Terrace within an inner garden, the Library ‘Or’ where Grand Afternoon Tea is served, and the Flying Deer pop-up bar and a spa.

The Library ‘Or’ where Grand Afternoon Tea is served © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Sofitel SPA offers a heated indoor pool, sauna, hammam (Turkish steam bath) and fitness area where you can also order from a spa menu.

The Grand is one of the Sofitel Legend’s collection of stately heritage hotels and palaces found in iconic cities around the world, “exclusive hotels in legendary places, offering world-class service, stunning décor and inspiring culinary experiences. Step into a timeless story that’s still unfolding to this day at Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam.”

Rarely do you find a historic hotel that played such an integral role in a nation’s history as the Sofitel Legend Grand Hotel Amsterdam, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Grand features 178 guest rooms of which 52 are luxury suites. Throughout, you see a harmonious blend of traditional and contemporary French design and typical Dutch style elements. The rich heritage of the structure has been carefully preserved, while ensuring that the accommodations are updated with the amenities and advanced technology travelers today savor. (I can testify to the exemplary service.)

Guests who stay in the suites are provided an extra layer of luxury: Butler Service, with exclusive benefits, such as “personalized rooming” – (un)packing of suitcases and presenting the “pillow menus” and “bath rituals”.

Sofitel Legend Grand Amsterdam, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 197, 1012 EX AmsterdamThe Netherlandswww.sofitel-legend.comwww.sofitel-legend-thegrand.com.

Historic Hotels Worldwide

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam is a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide®, an official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the USA, and an international companion to Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org). Historic Hotels Worldwide is a prestigious collection of 360 historic treasures that include historic hotels, castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries, and other historic lodging spanning ten centuries and more than 45 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

The Sofitel Legend Grand Hotel exemplifies the mission of Historic Hotels Worldwide, to promote revitalization and preservation of magnificent architectural and cultural legacies and inspire heritage and cultural travel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Sofitel Legend exemplifies the mission and criteria of the membership. Hotels inducted into Historic Hotels Worldwide® are authentic historic treasures, demonstrate historic preservation, and celebrate historic significance.  With a growing global collection of hotels that have faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity, Historic Hotels Worldwide® membership  is comprised of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, collections, and independently owned and operated properties.

Historic Hotels Worldwide® is dedicated to promoting heritage and cultural travel to these prestigious historic treasures. Membership in Historic Hotels Worldwide® encourages revitalization and enhances preservation of magnificent architectural and cultural legacies.

The Sofitel Legend Grand Hotel exemplifies the mission of Historic Hotels Worldwide, to promote revitalization and preservation of magnificent architectural and cultural legacies and inspire heritage and cultural travel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To participate in Historic Hotels Worldwide, historical lodging properties must be at least 75 years old; utilize historic accommodations; serve as the former home or be located on the grounds of the former home of famous persons or a significant location for an event in history; be located in or within walking distance to a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of historic event, or historic city center; be recognized by local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance. Hotels located in the United States must be a current member of Historic Hotels of America to qualify for participation in Historic Hotels Worldwide.

Hotels are in diverse cultural settings, ranging from a 12th-century castle set among the rolling hills, prehistoric  monuments, and Celtic landmarks of Ireland’s Ancient Eastin, (Kilkea Castle, Castledermot Ireland, circa 1180) to a medieval village nestled in the Tuscan countryside that dates back to the 11th century (La Bagnaia Golf & Spa Resort Siena, Curio Collection by Hilton, Siena, Italy circa 1081).

Travelers can find and book these historic hotels them at HistoricHotels.org, which since 2012 has served as a global travel website, or call 1-800-678-8946. The Annual Directory can be found by visiting HistoricHotels.org/Directory.

See also:

Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam: Historic Hotel that Played Major Role in History

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling in the Jewish Quarter

36 Hours in Amsterdam: Time-Traveling Through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter

__________________

© 2022 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

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 6 of our BoatBikeTours bike trip from Bruges to Amsterdam proves to be the absolute highlight (out of many) and not just for the iconic attractions (spoiler alert: windmills!), but the serendipitous experiences that are the essence of travel.

Biking along the river as our ship, the Princesse Royal sails by © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We set out for this day’s ride, 35 miles from Dordrecht to Vianen, riding along a berm that looks down on the river where we can see our ship, the Princesse Royal, sailing along on the left while on the right, just behind a row of houses, we see windmills.

We soon come to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of these centuries old windmills (the name literally means children’s dike).

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I always thought of windmills as industrial engines to grind grain or saw wood, and windmills had that function in Holland as well, but in the mid-1700s, Holland used windmills as pumps to drain water to create farm land that otherwise would have been below sealevel. They began by reclaiming two huge patches of land with a system of canals, dykes and windmills to pump water out. Methods changed over time, with the addition of steam engines, electric pumps, that are in a race to take the water out of reclaimed land. But it is expected that this place will eventually succumb to the sea and be below sea level. (Like Venice, see the windmills now!).

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Dutch have been building hydraulic works for the drainage of land for agriculture and settlement since the Middle Ages and have continued to the present day. And these windmills’ most critical task was the ongoing water drainage because 26 percent of The Netherlands is below sea level. Each year, 5 trillion gallons of water must be pumped out to avoid flooding the low-lying parts of the Netherlands. (https://netherlandsinsiders.com/why-is-the-netherlands-known-for-windmills/)

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At its peak, there were more than 10.000 windmills operating in The Netherlands. Today, there still are more than 1,000 (and we encounter many of them along our ride – along with the modern day version, wind turbines).

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Two of the mills at Kinderdijk, Nederwaard Museum Mill (built in 1738), and Blokweer Museum Mill (which shows what life was like in the 1950s) are opened daily to the public, in addition to boat tours, which can be visited with an entrance ticket .

Kinderdijk is an enchanting place – like a Dutch painting come to life – and after giving us a good amount of time to explore on our own, we get back on the bikes and follow the trail through this entire expanse to continue on our way to Schoonhoven.

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We bike to where we are having lunch – a delightful market and a marvelous shop, which usually has tables outside. But they are doing construction so we sit at tables in the barn, with cows, goats, rabbit, lambs. (Unexpected!).

Sharing lunch with cows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rain is expected and sure enough, it comes in like clockwork (1 pm) as a furious downpour with thunder and wind. We are cozy inside with the cows and goats. (I’m just so grateful the rain waited until after we visited Kinderdijk.)

Sharing lunch with cows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Right on time, the thunderstorm passes, but more is expected, so our leaders decide not to offer the option of the longer ride (we were looking forward to riding through peoples’ backyards, as our leader, Arnold Thurko, described), and so set out.

Enchanting scene after a rain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The atmosphere is utterly magical – a milky/creamy quality washing over the green/grey landscape with touches of yellow and orange, dotted with windmills.

Enchanting experience riding through the countryside after a rain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ship meets us at Schoonhoven and takes us on to Vianen.

Dinner this evening is a delicious broccoli soup with cucumber; cod with white herb sauce; vegetables, potatoes; and for dessert, a white chocolate mousse with pistachio.

The Princesse Royal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Vianen: Free City

After dinner, we walk off the ship and our leader, Corrie Stein, guides us on a tour of of Vianen, delighting us with her storytelling. Vianen, she says, calls itself a “free town,” by which I take to mean they are libertarians, resistant to national authority, like paying taxes, and not too welcoming to outsiders. “The city is proud of being a free town.” “Libre” is proclaimed on a sign as we walk in.

She points out other aspects of culture: “Dutch symmetry”. “People will have two of the same planters for symmetry/balance” and the tradition of keeping curtains open (so others can see how nice it is inside).

The local hero here is Hendrik von Brederode, a nobleman who lived from 1531-1568. He became   important during the Dutch revolt against the Spanish king for religious freedom, the Eighty Years War.

Vianen’s local hero here is Hendrik von Brederode petitioned the Spanish for freedom of religion, and earned the nickname “Grote Geus” or the “big beggar” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In the Netherlands, when we want something badly, we can petition parliament. Nobles sent Hendrik to the representative of the Spanish king in Brussels to petition for freedom of religion. But in translation, the word ‘beggar” or ‘begging’ was attached to him. “From then on, they called themselves ‘beggars’.” Hendrik was nicknamed the “Grote Geus” or the “big beggar”.

“Eventually we got freedom of religion, after the 80-year revolt.”

Most villages have a main square. Vianen – being so independent, I guess – has a boulevard instead.

Vianen shows its free-spirit by a boulevard instead of a town square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Napoleon made a road from Paris to Amsterdam and armies and Napoleon came here (& Dordrecht) and drank red wine.

At the Town Hall, Corrie explains that the ground does not support tall towers, and there is not a lot of stone to build with, so it is very prestigious to build with natural stone instead of brick.

On the chimney on top of the Town Hall we see a stork nest – Corrie says the story that associates storks with delivering babies comes from Dutch tradition.

Vianen’s Town Hall with a stork’s nest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the outside of the apothecary, there is a bust of a taste tester “to show the medicine was safe.”

Where the historic castle used to stand today there is a water tower – the first in Netherlands to be made of concrete – which turns out to be an icon of Vianen.

She also points to a tree – the Queen Wilhelmia tree. “The House of Orange was depending upon one small girl to keep the house going – would she stay alive? Communities planted trees of hope. The House of Orange had one child – Queen Juliana – who had four daughters.”

Breukelein Bridge

In the morning of Day 7, our last day of cycling, our ship, the Princesse Royal, sails from Vianen to Breukelein, which I learn (most delightedly) that this is where the first settlers of Brooklyn came from. (Corrie jokes that it has its own Breukelen bridge; we stop at for photos). We will bike from here to Amsterdam (New York, you will remember, was originally New Amsterdam) – our last stop on our boat/bike tour.

Okay, not quite Brooklyn Bridge, but the people from Breukelein settled Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The path from Breukelein along the River Feckt that goes up to Amsterdam is gorgeous, dotted with literal mansions built by textile magnates. “400 years ago this was an important place- the wealthy from Utrecht and Amsterdam would flee the city in summer –heat, diseases – and built impressive summer houses,” Corrie tells us.  

They were built over a 400 year period and French destroyed many and many were replaced, so they have different styles. Many have impressive gardens and tea houses. It is reminiscent of Newport’s “cottages.”

Over a period of 400 years, wealthy merchants from Utrecht and Amsterdam built mansions along the river where they could  escape the summer’s heat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It was scary for people to be outside city, so they even “controlled” their gardens and would buy the view across the river (that remains true today).

We cycle on to a dairy farm and cheese factory, Willigen, in Vreeland and are given a truly fascinating tour by owner Corey, (her brother, Henry Villa, is famous for his cheese shops but his sister, who uses the same recipes, prefers to stay small scale). I’m fascinated by the sophisticated, computerized operation. (They also have a bnb, www.dewilligenlogies.nl/nl/)

They have 80 milking cows on 180 acres of land. The cows come in for milking at 5:30 am and 5:30 pm – 10 cows on each side. One person can milk the 80 cows in an hour. The cows all have computer IDs – when their head is inserted, the computer knows the cow, how many kilos and type of food pellets every cow needs. Each cow is milked 300 days of the year and produces 30 liters of milk a day.

Learning about computerized milking, feeding and cheese-making practices at the Willigen cheese farm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The milk, just five minutes old, goes to the cheese-making factory. “The difference between farmer cheese and factory is the farmer is not allowed to pasteurize milk. Milk that is three days old is used as starter milk for the cows.It takes 10 liters of milk to make 1 kilo of cheese.

Dairy farm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We bike along the River Vecht where there are number of houseboats – we are getting closer to Amsterdam.

At Muiden, we take a bit of a detour to see Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in the Netherlands. The castle was built around 1285 and has a long and turbulent history. It forms part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam and the New Dutch Waterline, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has been a museum since 1878.The castle is surrounded by gardens (muiderslot.nl).

At Muiden, we take a bit of a detour to see Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in the Netherlands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We set out again for Amsterdam, our end point, but the option to take the longer route is taken away because of concern for a severe rainstorm.

We ride fast to get to the ship before the rain, meet the ship and sail into Amsterdam, where it is already raining.

Bicycles of Amsterdam: just a small section of the bicycle parking lot beside Amsterdam’s Central Station © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are docked on the opposite shore from Amsterdam’s city center, but Amsterdam is so bike/pedestrian friendly, the city offers free ferries that run constantly.

We literally step out of where the Princesse Royal is docked and walk a few steps to the ferry to Amsterdam’s Central Station and the historic city center. So I hop on one to go into the historic center for a walk-about in the rain before our gala, farewell dinner.

Enjoying a gala dinner onboard the Princesse Royal at the end of our eight-day BoatBikeTours Bruges to Amsterdam trip © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Corrie and Arnold also help those who need to get a COVID test before traveling back to the US make the appointment (an extremely efficient system from Spoedtest.nl in Amsterdam, and helping us organize for our departure.

Princesse Royal’s captain and owner Roy van der Veen, first mate, chef, housekeeper, host and our tour leaders Corrie Stein and Arnold Thurkow © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is an ideal trip especially if you are traveling on your own, if you are new to biketouring, or with a family or just want a relaxing, incredibly scenic and interesting ride. The scheduling, route, itinerary, tours and excursions are excellent – and I especially love how our ship in most cases docks right at the town so we can walk off and visit.

Boat Bike Tours, Aambeeldstraat 20, 1021 KB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tel.: +31 20 72 35 400,  [email protected], www.boatbiketours.com.

See also:

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

__________________

© 2022 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