Category Archives: Historic Places

Visiting Colmar, France, is Like Stepping into a Storybook

Maison Pfister is a centerpiece of Colmar, France and has become the historic city’s symbol © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Colmar, in France’s Alsace-Lorraine region, is a storybook village – its buildings literally decorated to tell a story. And when you wander around its narrow, twisting streets, you walk through 500 years of history, lose all sense of what century you are in and fall totally under its spell.

Almost miraculously, the city has managed to remain mostly unscathed through centuries of wars. So as you stroll around, you come upon architectural jewels from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. (You can follow a self-guided historic walking tour of silver Statue of Liberty figures in the pavement.)

I became curious about visiting Colmar when I saw a short report about it being the childhood home of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created the Statue of Liberty, and the images of how colorful and charming it was. I had to see if for myself.

So I take advantage of the ease of visiting Colmar from Strasbourg, the starting point for a European Waterways canal cruise through the Alsace Lorraine on its luxury hotel barge, Panache. It is just 45 minutes on the train, every half hour, a most enjoyable, comfortable and scenic ride, 28E roundtrip, no need to reserve – and  join the hordes of day-trippers exploring this  fairytale-like place.

It’s a short, pleasant walk from the Colmar train station into Le Petit Venise (Little Venice), the historic district (really similar to Strasbourg’s Le Petit France), and I am immediately enchanted.

Colmar is famous for its half-timbered houses and richly decorated merchants’ mansions. Some date from the Middle Ages, such as the Adolf House, the oldest in Colmar, built in the second half of the 14th century; and the “Huselin zum Swan” on Schongauer Street.

Maison Pfister, built in 1537, manifests exquisite art and design of the Renaissance© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Renaissance is on display in one of Colmar’s most magnificent structures, Maison Pfister with ornate bay windows (oriels), long wooden gallery and exquisitely painted murals, which has become a symbol of the city. Maison Pfister was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a wealthy hatter from Besancon. The paintings that decorate the façade, attributed to Christian Vacksterffer, represent 16th century Germanic Emperors, Evangelists, Church Fathers, allegorical figures and biblical characters and scenes. It is named for the merchant Francois-Xavier Pfister who acquired the mansion in 1841.

The exquisite paintings that decorate the façade of Maison Pfister © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come upon a house at 34, rue des Marchands with a plaque dated 1435 and a note that says this was the residence of master painter Caspar Isenmann “(Zum Grienen hus”). Another marvelous structure is “Cour du Weinhof,” at 12-16 rue des Marchands, which is a medieval 14th century granary.

A plaque says this was the residence of master painter Caspar Isenmann “(Zum Grienen hus”), dated 1435 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A 14th century granary in Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So many of the buildings are adorned with beautiful, even playful, whimsical decoration – as if there is a competition for who can have the prettiest or cleverest or most festive, or perhaps a public ordinance that requires everyone to be incredibly festive and clever. I wonder.

The whimsically decorated buildings make Colmar seem like a storybook © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The whimsically decorated buildings make Colmar seem like a storybook © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The whimsically decorated buildings make Colmar seem like a storybook © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I go in search of the intriguingly named House of Heads. Built in1609 in German Renaissance style, it has a three-story bay window, and a façade embellished with 111 heads and masks.

The intriguingly named House of Heads, Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You walk through a fabulous pedestrian zone -a listed “protected sector” – that takes you from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, from “Little Venice” to the Tanners district with its grand white-fronted houses.

Similar to Strasbourg, there are districts, or neighborhoods, built around trades.

Colmar’s Poisonnerie quay where fish caught mainly in the River Ill were stocked and sold, dates from the 14th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Poisonnerie quay where fish caught mainly in the River Ill were stocked and sold, dates from the 14th century. Part of this district was damaged in a major fire in 1706 but some houses were rebuilt. The whole area underwent urban revitalization from 1976 to 1981.

Colmar’s Poisonnerie quay where fish caught mainly in the River Ill were stocked and sold, dates from the 14th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Tanners Quarter, rounded by the Rue de Montagne Vertne, Rue des Tripiers, Rue des Tanneurs and place de l’Ancienne Douane, is the epicenter of the protected old town center. Its tall, timber-framed houses built during the 17th and 18th centuries, often have a final open-worked level which was used by craftsmen to dry their pelts. The district was restored 1968-1974.

The Tanners Quarter has been restored © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Koifhus (Old Customs house) completed in 1480, is the oldest public building in the city. The ground floor was used as a warehouse, where imported and exported goods were taxed. The floor was used for meetings of the deputies of the Décapole, the federation of the 10 imperial cities of Alsace, formed in 1534 and for the Magistrate. When the Revolution abolished commercial privileges, the building was used for other purposes. Around 1840,  the building was used as a theater and in 1848, the first office of the discount bank. The Koïfhus was occupied by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1870 to 1930 and by a Catholic boy school and an Israelite school in the late 19th century. Today it is used for various public activities.

Colmar’s Covered Market: what is old is new again © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A marvelous place is The Covered Market, especially to pick up picnic fixings for lunch or snack. Designed in 1865, this building is made of bricks, with a metal frame has had several functions until being returned to its original purpose of market hall. About 20 merchants offer high quality products: fruits and vegetables, butchery, cheese dairy, bakery and pastry, fish and other terroir delights – yet another example of what is old becoming new again. (13 rue des Ecoles, Quartier de la Petite Venise).

I find a sensational patisserie that has the best croissants, which I munch just outside in a tiny park.

Musee Unterlinden

I wander a bit aimlessly, just soaking in the atmosphere, and find myself at one of Colmar’s most important museums, Musee Unterlinden.

Musee Unterlinden is housed in a 13th century convent building  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Founded in 1906, Musee Unterlinden is housed in a 13th century convent building that was linked to the former municipal baths building  by architects Herzog & de M Meuron, who added a contemporary extension. Within you wander through 7,000 years of history, culture and art from the prehistoric era to 20th century.

The museum is mainly known as a showcase of Rhenish Art, displaying a remarkable collection of paintings and sculptures of the Colmar region of the 15th and 16th centuries, a Golden Age for the Upper Rhine.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But its star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim, an exquisite polyptych created between 1512 and 1516 by the artists Niclaus of Haguenau (for the sculpted elements) and Grünewald (for the painted panels). It was created for the Antonite order’s monastic complex at Isenheim, a village about 15 miles south of Colmar, where it decorated the high altar of the monastery hospital’s chapel until the French Revolution.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Isenheim Altarpiece  is housed in the museum’s Medieval cloister, where you find the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with works by Martin Schongauer, Hans Holbein and Lucas Cranach. The former baths building that opened in 1906 is used for special exhibitions, while the works of major 20th century artists including Monet, de Staël, Picasso and Dubuffet have a new showcase in the contemporary wing.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wander down to the cellar of the former convent, and am fascinated to see its extensive archaeology section, with artifacts of the Haut-Rhin region dating back thousands of years. The collection has been expanding because of ongoing regional excavations. One section is devoted to prehistory and protohistory, the neighboring rooms to the Roman and Merovingian periods.

Musee Unterlinden’s star attraction is the celebrated altarpiece of Isenheim © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The extensive collection of historical objects and artifacts from domestic life and funerary contexts, mostly from the northern Haut-Rhine, presents an almost complete overview of the different stages of the region’s cultural evolution.

Musee Unterlinden’s collection of historical objects and artifacts presents an almost complete overview of the different stages of the region’s cultural evolution.© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I find it interesting to learn Unterlinden was founded by a man who was convinced of the importance of “making a contribution to forming and developing a sense of taste and beauty” and of “providing the lower classes with an opportunity to benefit from the knowledge and pleasures they are so often denied.” In 1847, Louis Hugot, archivist and the city librarian of Colmar since 1841, was inspired by his love of graphic art to establish the Martin Schoengauer Society with other local scholars. Two years later, the society published its plan to transform the Unterlinden Convent into a museum. 

Musee Unterlinden, Place Untrlinden, https://www.musee-unterlinden.com/en/home/.

Musee Bartholdi

The Musee Bartholdi inner courtyard is  where you see Bartholdi’s inspiring statue, “Grand soutiens du monde” – four women holding up the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The climax for my enchanting tour of Colmar comes when I (finally) find my way to the Musee Bartholdi (I seem to have overshot it a couple of times, even though everything is really close, even though there are metal markers in the street leading to the museum). The museum is housed in the childhood home of sculptor Frederick Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), who created the statue we know as the Statue of Liberty, but was actually named “Liberty Enlightening the World,” unveiled in New York in 1886.

Bartholdi’s inspiring statue, “Grand soutiens du monde” – four women holding up the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bartholdi was the son of a councilmember who died in 1836 when he was just two years old. The family residence was built in the 15th century and transformed in the 18th century into an elegant hotel particulier (town mansion).

When Bartholdi died, his widow defied his wishes (he wanted her to create a museum for sculpture) and turned his Colmar family home into a museum as a tribute to him. Opened in 1922, the Bartholdi museum is entirely dedicated to presenting the artist’s work as well as his process, so you see models, drawings, engravings and photographs.  You also see family furniture and personal mementos.

Going through Bartholdi’s childhood home, you feel you get to know him © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You enter through an inner courtyard, where you see Bartholdi’s inspiring statue, “Grand soutiens du monde” – four women holding up the world (bronze 1902).

The collection is presented on three floors of the mansion and walking through the family’s rooms lets you see Bartholdi as a person, how his idealism was manifested in his art, and you realize that his true genius is how his art inspires that same idealism in the viewer.

A portrait of Frederick Auguste Bartholdi in the Bartholdi Museum, Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A whole room (surprisingly small, but that makes it more intimate) is dedicated to the Statue of Liberty – you see his inspirations and some early designs, and fantastic historic photos of its production in Paris. It is thrilling to see Bartholdi’s process for the Statue of Liberty, which he titled Liberty Enlightening the World.

Indeed, Bartholdi’s colossal Lady Liberty famously celebrates freedom, and most Americans believe his symbols refer to the American Revolution and independence from tyranny, especially since it was dedicated in New York 1886, a little over a century after the Declaration of Independence. But Bartholdi intended Liberty to commemorate America’s abolition of slavery as a result of the Civil War in 1865 – the idea for the monument originated in 1865 but was pursued only after the Third French Republic was established in 1870. We see a model of the statue that has Lady Liberty’s foot stepping on chains, as if to crush the chains of bondage.

A model of Bartholdi’s “Liberty Enlightening the World”shows Lady Liberty crushing chains of bondage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lady Liberty stands 151 feet tall, and the top of her torch brings the statue up to 305 feet – the largest statue that had ever been completed up to that time.

There are also his models for Bartholdi’s monumental statue, Lion of Belfort, which is as precious to France as Lady Liberty is to America. Bartholdi served in the Franco-Prussian War and took part in the defense of Colmar. I read that Bartholdi was distraught over Alsace’s defeat and over the years, constructed monuments celebrating French heroism in its defense against Germany. Lion of Belfort, which he created from 1871-1880, symbolizes the French resistance against Prussia’s assault during the 103-day Siege of Belfort, December 1870 to February 1871.

Bartholdi’s “Le Martyr modern,” reinterprets the tragic myth of Prometheus© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Colmar had always celebrated its native son, Bartholdi, and he had erected statues in the city, including his earliest works. But in the 1890s, German authorities restricted Bartholdi’s residency permit in Alsace, because several of his public monuments demonstrated support for a French Alsace. The sculptor found it increasingly difficult to travel to Colmar. In light of this, the Schoengeuer Society’s decision to set up a Bartholdi Room in the Unterlinden Museum in 1898 was a courageous move.

Bartholdi collaborated with the Schoengauer Society early on – his first major sculpture was created for the Unterlinden Museum when he was just 18 years old – a plaster statue of the founder of the Unterlinden Convent, Agnes de Hergenheim (1852), as well as the monumental fountain in honor of Martin Schongeuer, erected in the cloister of the former convent (1863). Bartholdi donated several works to the society which were transferred to the Bartholdi Museum when it opened in 1922.

Following the re-annexation of Alsace and Moselle by Nazi Germany in June 1940, Colmar was once again under German rule. The museum was shut down. The German forces destroyed Bartholdi’s monuments in the city – the statue of General Rapp was smashed on September 9, 1940; the Bruat fountain was dismantled. Figures of the four continents in red Vosges sandstone were crushed.

Nazis crushed Bartholdi’s Figures of the four Continents  but residents saved the four heads © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But some Colmar residents managed to get to the site to save the four heads and a part of the foot, which they hid in their cellars. The fragments were returned to the city after the war (they are on view in the museum) and a new version of the fountain was erected in 1958.

The museum reopened in 1979, very likely spurred by preparations for celebrating the Statue of Liberty Centennial.

Metal images of Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty embedded in Colmar’s walkway lead the way to the Bartholdi Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(We can see his works in the United States also: Marquis de Lafayette in Union Square, NYC; Bartholdi Fountain in the Botanic Garden, Washington DC.)

There is also a 12-meter high replica of the Statue of Liberty, sculpted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of sculptor Auguste Bartholdi’s death, located at the northern entrance to the town.

“Fontaine Schwendi”, depicting Lazarus von Schendi  (1898), in the Place de L’Ancienne Douane,  is one of Bartholdi’s works that can be found around Colmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum has a brochure (in French) with a map of where you can find Bartholdi statues and monuments around Colmar: Monument du Général Rapp – 1856 (first shown 1855 in Paris. Bartholdi’s earliest major work); “Fontaine Schongauer” – 1863 (in front of the Unterlinden Museum); “Fontaine de l’Amiral Bruat” – 1864; “Fontaine Roeselmann” – 1888; “Monument Hirn” – 1894; “Fontaine Schwendi”, depicting Lazarus von Schendi – 1898; Les grands soutiens du monde − 1902 (statue in the courtyard of the museum).

(Musee Bartholdi, 30 rue des Marchands, 68000 Colmar, https://www.musee-bartholdi.fr/)

Much of Colmar is a protected district, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Another site I miss is the Synagogue. Built 1839-1842 on the site of an old farm, the synagogue of Colmar is the seat of the Israelite Consistory and the Grand Rabbinate of the Haut-Rhin.

I learn that the Jewish community was expelled in the 16th century, but returned to Colmar during the Revolution. The Rabbi was transferred from Wintzenheim to Colmar in 1823. The synagogue of Colmar was renovated in 1885 and an annex added in 1936. Used as an arsenal during the German occupation, the synagogue was restored after the war. It is the only synagogue in the region which has a bell tower. (3 rue de la Cigogne,)

Enjoy a boat ride to see Colmar from the river © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear

Unfortunately, I leave Colmar before seeing its Illumination. The town is illuminated from nightfall on Fridays and Saturdays year-round and every evening during major events in Colmar such as the International Festival, Regional Alsace Wine Fair and Christmas in Colmar.

Another reason to look forward to returning.

For more information about Colmar’s museums: https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en/visit/presentation/museums

For more visitor information, contact Tourist Office of Colmar, Place Unterlinden, +33 (0)3 89 20 68 92, [email protected], https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en. The website is really helpful for planning: https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en/visit/presentation/discover

See also:

DISCOVERING STRASBOURG FRANCE’S CULTURAL RICHES

TIME-TRAVELING THROUGH STRASBOURG IN FRANCE’S ALSACE-LORRAINE

_______________________

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

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

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palais Rohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Stepping into the Storybook that is Colmar

See also:

DISCOVERING STRASBOURG FRANCE’S CULTURAL RICHES

_______________________

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

Discovering Strasbourg France’s Cultural Riches

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Time Traveling Through Strasbourg

See also:

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

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

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

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

_______________________

© 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

_______________________

© 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

_______________________

© 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 

Romance is at the Heart of the Hotel Napoleon in Paris, City of Love

The Hotel Napoleon, a boutique five-star hotel just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe in the fashionable 8th Arrondisement, began with a love story that continues to this day © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Romance is at the heart of the Hotel Napoleon in Paris, the City of Love. Romance is in its genes.

The Hotel Napoleon, just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe off the Place d’Etoile in Paris’ fashionable 8th Arrondisement, began with a love story that continues to this day.

The Hotel Napoleon, a boutique five-star hotel  just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe in the fashionable 8th Arrondisement, began with a love story that continues to this day © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Built on the site of the former Tolstoy family mansion in Art Deco style in 1928 by architect Henri Porteau, shortly after its opening, it was bought by Alexander Pavlovitch Kliaguine, a wealthy businessman from Russia, as a wedding present for his bride. A young Parisian student of literature, they had met at a salon, and fell in love at first sight. Kliaguine wanted to provide his bride a place to entertain Parisian high society (she later became the Baroness de Baubigny) and both resided there all their lives.

A portrait of the bride who stole Alexander Pavlovitch Kliaguine’s heart, in the Hotel Napoleon lobby © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To this day, the Hotel Napoléon Paris is owned by the Kliaguine family, and a new generation Kliaguine, now the general manager, still lives in the hotel with his family. Indeed, the hotel, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide, was named to its The 2022 Top 25 Historic Hotels Worldwide Most Romantic Hotels

And as Kliaguine had promised his bride, the Hotel Napoleon became a popular gathering place for Paris’ social elite and illustrious artistic and literary expatriates (“The Lost Generation”): F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Orson Welles, Errol Flynn  (who nicknamed the Napoleon “The Place”), Miles Davis, Josephine Baker and Ella Fitzgerald, who signed its Golden Book.

This all prompts images of  Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” (where a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s every day at midnight), and the Algonquin Hotel in New York (famous for its Algonquin Round Table of New York City writers, critics, actors, and wits) to dance in my mind.

The hotel has appeared in movies, such as Jean Gabin’s 1930’s movies and even had a star turn in, Le Cave se rebiffe (1961), where the character played by Jean Gabin, one of French cinema’s greatest stars, declares he is staying at The Napoléon, “as always”.

The grand Empire décor of The Hotel Napoleon transports you back in time © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exterior of the seven-story hotel may be Art Deco, but the atmosphere of this luxury boutique hotel will put in mind not of the Jazz Age or Art Deco, but the elegance of the Empire Period of Napoleon.

The Napoléon Bonaparte opened in 1928 as a “hôtel de charme” (a small distinctive hotel or boutique hotel) and only a year later, in 1929, reached the grade of “petit palace” and was renamed Napoléon Paris for its location steps away from the Arc de Triomphe. It was designated a five-star hotel by the French Agency of Tourist Development in 2013.

It is perfection that the historic Hotel Napoleon is just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe, along Avenue de Friedland, one of the 12 boulevards that radiate from the Place Etoile and just one over from the famous Champs Elysee in the toniest of Parisian neighborhoods, you might as well be in “Midnight in Paris,’ the way you feel transported back into France’s Empire period of Napoleon with its furnishings and collection of 400 historic paintings.  

The gracious lobby at The Hotel Napoleon, once a gathering place for Parisian social elite and the “Lost Generation” of literati and artists © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The boutique hotel is elegant, yet intimate and comfortable. You feel more like you are invited to into a gracious mansion or even that you are occupying your own grand Paris flat in the toniest of Parisian neighborhoods, the fashionable 89th Arrondissement. The Napoleon has remained an undeniably romantic retreat, offering private terraces with views of the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe and an enviable location in the Triangle d’Or.

You can’t help but swoon at the collection of art which is also featured in the sumptuous guestrooms and suites inspired by Parisian Empire design by interior design firm Malphettes & Biz.

One of the suites at The Hotel Napoleon. Each is individually decorated family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Napoleon boasts more suites (57) than hotel rooms (39), recently refreshed and renovated. Each is individually decorated and blends the extravagance of Empire design with contemporary elegance. Each has fine furnishings, sumptuous linens, grand drapery, lush fabrics and wallpaper, striking artwork, and luxurious marble-and-mahogany bathrooms, stocked with Nuxe luxury skincare products.

Some of the terrace suites overlook the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower, while others provide views of Avenue de Friedland or the flowers of the inner courtyard. Seven of the rooms have a terrace and four have a balcony.

One of the suites at The Hotel Napoleon. Each is individually decorated family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Suite 319-320 is opulently decorated with Chinese black-and-gold wallpaper. The most luxurious suite, 618, is named for Josephine – not Napoleon’s wife, but Josephine Baker.

There are niceties including a refrigerator stocked with snacks and soft drinks and juice that are replenished each day at no charge and free WiFi.

A battery of concierges who are members of the prestigious Les Clefs d’Or readily share knowledge of the city, make you feel really at home and get the most of the precious time you have in Paris. The hotel can even arrange child care. And small pets are welcome.

The Napoleon has a gracious lobby, a lovely dining room (which before COVID served as a restaurant, but is where breakfast is served), and a lovely bar, the 1807, with outdoor terrace which serves as an outdoor café.

Enjoy breakfast in the lovely dining room at The Hotel Napoleon, you may meet Mon. Kliaguine, the general manager and owner of the hotel, who lives in the hotel with his family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tradition of celebrities staying at this intimate hotel is maintained, with a photo gallery of autographed photos of sports heroes– some who stayed here, some who were friends of the owner – outside the 7th floor fitness room (and what a fitness room it is!).

The Napoleon Hotel offers a selection of massages and treatments, available in the spa or in your room (daily from 9am to 9pm) and can be booked before your arrival or directly with the concierge.

There is also a very pleasant (and private) courtyard and for convenience of guests. Another luxury: a number of parking spots in front of the hotel (41E/day) and EV charging stations.

The Hotel Napoleon makes available parking and EV charging for its guests © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotel Napoleon Paris offers packages, such as Romance in Paris includes Champagne, chocolates, and flowers; the Family package features connecting rooms.

The hotel is walking distance to everything on the first part of my four-day itinerary.

And so, on this first afternoon after I arrive by train from Strasbourg at the end of my European Waterways canal cruise through the Alsace Lorraine and pop out of the metro station at Place Etoile, I drop my bags in my room and set out to explore the Arc d’Triomphe, stroll the Champs Elysee, and walk along the quai of the Seine for the exquisite views of the Eiffel tower at sunset into the night.

Paris, the City of Light (and Love), is magical at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stroll back to the hotel along the grand Champs Élysées– the view up to the Arch at night is so dramatic – and for my brief time in the city, live a very Parisian experience. And the Empire ambiance completes the fantasy.

Midnight in Paris, indeed.

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

Historic Hotels Worldwide

The Hotel Napoleon is a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2011, the sister collection of Historic Hotels Worldwide®, a prestigious collection of more than 350 legendary historic hotels including many that were once castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries spanning ten centuries. Historic Hotels Worldwide recognizes authentic cultural treasures that demonstrate exemplary historic preservation and their inspired architecture, cultural traditions, and authentic cuisine, and in this way, preserves them.

To be nominated and selected for induction into 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 be a significant location for a historic event; be located in or within walking distance of a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of a historic event, or a historic city center; be recognized by a local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance.

The Empire décor and a collection of 400 historic paintings make you feel you have slipped back in time, at the Hotel Napoleon, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

These historic hotels are in diverse cultural settings: 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); 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), a 1650 manor house which was the former summer residence of Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III (Hotel Claude Marbella, Marbella, Spain).

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. More information at HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com.

Must Plan in Advance

The days of just showing up in a city as popular and as culturally rich as Paris are over – and not just because the Olympics are coming to Paris this summer. There is no longer a “shoulder” or “off” season. Lines for tickets at attractions can take literally hours, or you can be shut out altogether as capacity is reached. And this caveat is especially the case this year: 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.

As soon as you know your dates for travel, book your hotel, and pre-purchase timed tickets directly with the attractions you most want to see.

Walking back to The Hotel Napoleon, I get to appreciate this gorgeous night view of the Arc D’Triomphe. To visit during the day, best is to pre-purchase the Paris Museum Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even better, purchase a Paris Museums ticket, which provides admission to 55 different museums (34 within Paris and another 11 in the Paris region), including the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre and Musee d’Orsay – but you still need to pre-book a timed ticket and go through security (which also takes time). You can purchase the pass according to the number of days: 2 (E35), 4 (E70), and 6 (E85), which not only saves time (priceless), but money on buying tickets individually (https://www.parismuseumpass.fr/t-en).

There is also a Paris Pass through GoCity.com, which adds on attractions and experiences (the Paris Museum pass is included) for a total of 90. Among the experiences: Seine river cruises on the famous bateaux mouches (E18 if purchased separately); Perfume mini workshop by Fragonard (29E); French wine tasting at Les Caves du Louvre (E36); and even Ballon de Paris Generali, where you fly over Paris on the world’s largest balloon at 150 meters altitude (E20 ticket value).

The pass can save up to 50 percent off purchasing tickets individually. It comes with a GoCity app that lets you plan your visit and book your ticket. You sync your All-Inclusive Pass with the Go City app and download your Paris Museum Pass (parispass.com).

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

___________________________

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

New Brunswick Roadtrip: Exploring French Acadia’s Culture, Heritage by Bike!

Biking the beautiful boardwalk in Shippagan, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, with Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, www.goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our New Brunswick roadtrip that has so enthralled us with the natural wonders of the Bay of Fundy, now takes us to the Acadien Peninsula, where its French heritage is most pronounced and you really feel you are in another country. We are also excited to explore a portion of a marvelous new cycling trail, the Veloroute Peninsule Acadeienne, which opened in 2019, consisting of 14 cycling circuits, totaling 379 miles, that go through 14 coastal French fishing villages and communities. 

Because the Veloroute is so new, it seems, it is not well set up for a supported, self-guided multi-day trip, so we stitch together our own, with the help of Neil Hodge at New Brunswick Tourism. Neil arranges a multi-day bike rental for us from the Villegiature Deux Rivieres Resort (more geared for day rental), and an itinerary that follows the C15 circuit. Fortunately, Laini prefers to spend the day painting, so volunteers to drive the car to the next stop and then take my bike for a shorter ride with Dave at the end of the day. And we have to ferry the bike back to the rental shop (not really difficult, it is less than one hour’s drive back to Tracadie, and we’ve prepared by taking our bike rack). It is exciting to feel like we are pioneering a new biking destination.

This is an opportunity to take advantage of what is best about cycling (and clearly, this is an extremely popular activity throughout New Brunswick and Quebec): you ride at a perfect pace through local communities, small villages, see where and how people live. And there is such freedom during the day, to stop and explore, and really be immersed in a place.

Biking the New Brunswick’s new cycling trail, the Veloroute Peninsule Acadeienne,  from Tracadie to Shippagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This first day, we bike on the trail 22 miles from Tracadie at one end of the circuit, to Shippagan, riding mainly through woods and then along marshes, arriving at Shippagan at about 2:30. We have a delightful late-lunch in a Mediterranean-style restaurant, Chez Aicha (197 Bd J. D. Gauthier, +1 506-336-8989), then Dave and I continue exploring Shippagan, picturesquely set between Saint-Simon Bay and the Chaleur Bay inlet that goes into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, stopping at its most popular beach, Le Goulet.

Shippagan, New Brunswick’s beautiful boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We discover the boardwalk along Shippagan’s waterfront, and that we can bike all the way to Point Brule, the road that leads us to the cottage Laini has booked for two nights on Airbnb. We calculate we cycled 40 miles for the day.

Our charming Airbnb cottage on Point Brule, Shippagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dave and I are giddy with delight when we see the sweet, cozy aquamarine-colored cottage and how it is poised on the tip of Point Brule, perched on a ridge with our own ladder to the beach into the bay.

Who can resist? We quickly change and play in the water (surprisingly not too cold), then set out to watch the sunset on Miscou Island, which sits between the Bay of Chaleur and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, at its magnificent historic lighthouse.

The picturesque Miscou Lighthouse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We reach the Miscou Island Lighthouse on the northeastern tip of the island, just before sunset. The lighthouse was built in 1856 and designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1974.

The picturesque Miscou Lighthouse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is surprising how long (how far) Miscou Island actually is (24 km long by 16 km wide – small for an island but a good distance by bike), because this is the route we are supposed to bike tomorrow. Even on our itinerary, the route is 26 miles each way, hilly, on a two-lane, windy road. But Miscou is fabulous to explore – for birds and wildlife (we see a family of foxes), peat bogs, and not to be missed.

Steve of the popular Terasse a Steve restaurant on Miscou Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our plan is to have dinner at Terasse à Steve a fun, rustic place so beautifully set overlooking the Miscou wharf that is legendary in the community, but when we pull up, we discover Steve has closed early (for mosquitoes!).

That means we have to race back to Shippagan before the restaurants close (at 8:30 pm). We’ve called ahead to Pinokkio’s who tell us to just get there by 9 pm. We race back, arriving at 9 pm on the dot, and sure enough, they seat us. The wood-fired pizzas (fungi pizza, margarita), with the freshest, most flavorful ingredients, are fantastic. ((Pinokkio Pizzeria Resto-Bar, 121 16e rue, Shippagan, 506-336-0051, www.pinokkio.ca).

Sunset from our cottage on Point Brule, Shippagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Instead of biking back to Miscou Island (Veloroute map shows the Miscou route as 41 km just on the island), Dave and I decide to explore Lameque Island, which is in between Shippagan and Miscou (so glad we toured by car).

We set out again from the cottage on the road that leads to the entrance to the beautiful wooden boardwalk and connects to our biking routes, winding passed the colorful marina, then over the bridge to Lameque.

Biking around Lameque, on the Acadian Peninsula, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We first find a lovely bike trail in the woods that parallels the busy Route 113, cross another small bridge, and then find a beautiful, if short, trail along the water. But when that ends, we ride on the shoulder of Route 113, which serves as a bike path. We come upon an eco-park on Lameque, and explore that before continuing our cycling,

Enjoying a meal at Steve’s Terrasse on Miscou © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are determined to dine at Steve’s Terrasse on Miscou, which is just on the other side of the (high) bridge from Lameque. Laini pulls away from her painting and meets us there for a late lunch – a sensational meal of lobster with spaghetti, pesto and parmesan; steamed clams; and a whole lobster (9650 route 113, Miscou, +1 506-344-7000)

Biking around Lameque, on the Acadian Peninsula, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Biking back to Lameque (back again over the steep bridge!), we follow a route that takes us along the eastern side of the island along the road (with ups and downs, unlike the bikeway) – it is marked in purple on the map – that give us some lovely views of the water as we ride through neighborhoods. (Amazingly, we don’t find actual stores or restaurants, absolutely nothing for the people to do except for some churches).

Each day, our ride begins and ends on the Shippagan boardwalk, my favorite part of the ride.

Enjoying a second dinner in a row at Pinokkio, Shippagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the time Dave and I get back to our cottage in Shippagan, we calculate we’ve biked 45 miles. But now we have to race back into town to find a restaurant. The recommended places we call are all booked solid (it’s graduation day), so we (happily) call again to Pinokkio, and sure enough, they are booked too, but make room for us. The mushroom risotto is sensational. (Pinokkio Pizzeria Resto-Bar, serving up wood-fired pizzeria, appetizers, salads, pasta, seafood, steak, international cuisine, wine list, selection of domestic and imported beers, and decadent desserts, 121 16e rue, Shippagan, 506-336-0051, www.pinokkio.ca).

Biking Shippagan, New Brunswick’s beautiful boardwalk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We really have to pull ourselves away from Shippagan (regrettably we don’t have time to visit the Aquarium which we keep passing on the boardwalk, 100 Aquarium St., Shippagan, 506-336-3013, [email protected], aquariumnb.ca).

(Shippagan, https://tourismepeninsuleacadienne.ca/en/region-shippagan/, 506.336.3900).

Caraquet

Biking the new cycling trail, the Veloroute Peninsule Acadeienne, along New Brunswick, Canada’’s Acadian Peninsula, from Shippagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today’s ride takes us back onto the delightful Veloroute to Caraquet, 20 miles on the trail. Basically we back track from Shippagan 10 miles to a fork in the trail and then back up 10 miles to Caraquet, most of it in the trees (so refreshing).

We find our way to a charming waterfront village of cute shops, a small artist’s collective, eateries and a picturesque wharf and marina, where we have lunch.

An artisan village within Caraquet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We consider biking back the 20 miles from Caraquet to Tracadie to return the bikes, but realize we would be doubling back 20 miles on the trail we had already taken, and prefer instead to spend the afternoon exploring the rest of the trail, 7 miles further along Caraquet Bay to where it ends at Bertrand.

Biking along the shore from Caraquet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is the best choice! This part of the trail is particularly scenic, hugging the coast along Caraquet Bay (an inlet of Chaleur Bay), passing some gorgeous houses and views of the water, adding about 14 miles to our total for the day. We then drive the bikes back Tracadie, racing to get to the rental shop by closing time.

(Veloroute de la Peninsule acadienne, 506-336-4116, [email protected], www.veloroutepa.ca)

Caraquet is an extremely nice place to live, and clearly, very popular for tourists, judging by the string of hotels along the main street.

My hotel is the Super 8 By Wyndham (9 Avenue du Carrefour, 506-727-0888), is ideally located right in the waterfront village, alongside the coastal trail.

Returning the bikes the afternoon before works out superbly for me, because it gives me time to visit Caraquet’s major, not-to-be missed attraction, the Historic Acadian Village, which proves such a highlight of our New Brunswick roadtrip.

“Leave the 21st Century behind at Historic Acadien Village”

“Leave the 21st Century behind at Historic Acadien Village” a highlight of our visit to New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Historic Acadien Village is an open air living history museum with costumed (fully bilingual) interpreters who recreate the roles of real people. What makes this place so extraordinary, though, is that you walk a 2.2 km circuit through 200 years of history – the 40 buildings represent a different time, the oldest from 1773 up to 1895, then, you walk through a covered bridge built in 1900 into the 20th century village where the buildings date from 1905 to 1949.

As you walk about, you literally feel yourself stepping across the threshold back in time.

Walking through this idyllic village, looking at the goats, the sheep, the cows which supply the milk, meat, fiber for clothes, the fields and streams for fish, you would imagine they had everything they needed, life was tranquil, sustainable. But I soon learn from my conversation with the interpreter in the 1852 Cyr house that it was a daily struggle for survival.

An idyllic Acadien village masks how hard life would have been like for the Acadiens Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This arises when I watch her sewing and she says she baked 25 loaves yesterday, enough that would have lasted her family of 8 including grandparent and a farmhand, a week (but actually supplies the village restaurants which serve menus appropriate to the time). I suggest that must be a lot of work. She tells me that her children help. Don’t they go to school? “The children don’t go to school, they are needed at home. It’s a question of surviving. We would have been too isolated to go to school in winter, and they are needed in summer.” Homeschool? “We cannot read; we depend on the priest to read any letter that might come.”

On the stove, she is preparing a pie with pork, onion, turnip, potato. “The pot is on legs so it doesn’t burn; we put wood chips on top so the food cooks from the top and bottom.”

This house came from Saint-Basile, New Brunswick, near the St. John River near Maine/Quebec. I observe that it seems quite large. “We’re not rich, but there was enough wood to build.”

What she tells me next seems to explain why the French Acadiens are so fiercely French (and why, as we travel, we see many flags of French Acadia but few of New Brunswick or Canada):

It was during the French and Indian War, when Britain battled France for control of the New World colonies. “In 1755, the British took the French men in one boat and women and children in another – they didn’t want families together. They felt there were too many Acadiens in same place and would be able to fight British. They made the Acadiens sign a contract to be British, not French, and those who refused were sent away. The boat took them far away – they didn’t know where they were going- some were sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to Louisiana.”

Seeing how life would have been like over 200 years at the living history museum, Village Historique Acadien, Bertrand, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The war ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, with France giving Great Britain its colonial possessions in North America, except the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland (which remain French colonies even today). In 1764, the British allowed Acadians to return in small isolated groups, but by then as many as 18,000 had been forcibly removed and thousands more killed. (See: https://www.cbc.ca/acadian/timeline.html)

Seeing how life would have been like over 200 years at the living history museum, Village Historique Acadien, Bertrand, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She says that when the French colonists were kicked out of Nova Scotia, they would send word to each other to come “a Cadia” (“to Cadia”), a name derived from an Indian word meaning “the place.”

Indeed, all these buildings were collected from other places in New Brunswick during the mid-1970s, creating a what appears to me to be an idyllic “Pleasantville” community.

I continue my walk through these fascinating homesteads. You also get to visit the chapel (1831), post office, general store (1889), tavern (1880), blacksmith’s shop and forge (1874), all with interpreters demonstrating their crafts.

The 1867 printing office at the living history museum, Village Historique Acadien, Bertrand, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My personal favorite: the newspaper/printing office (1867), which had been owned by Israel Londry who had five employees putting out 2000 copies of a four-page weekly paper (delivered to the post office), that would cost $1 for a six-month subscription. There are copies you can read.

There is also a one-room schoolhouse (1869), where the teacher tells me that on any day, she might have 20 students or 2, depending upon whether they were needed at home. “Before 1941, there were no mandates to attend school – children stayed home as free labor. It was a matter of survival.”

The one-room schoolhouse where the teacher could have 2 or 20 children a day depending if they were needed on the farm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I love seeing the machinery of the 1895 grist mill. Originally it would have milled flour, sawed wood, made cedar shingles, serving a 50-mile radius. The miller would keep 10% of the flour, which he would trade for something else. “There was not much currency,” the miller tells me.. But in 1918, the miller closed the flour mill over a dispute of $125 from a bill for repair parts that went back to 1890, when new repairs were needed in 1914, and the $125 was again added to the bill, he shut it down, but kept the saw mill, carting machine and cedar shingles.

Cross the Kissing Bridge into the 20th century to visit the Irving Gas Station at the living history museum, Village Historique Acadien, Bertrand, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then you walk across the covered bridge (1900), called “the Kissing Bridge,” and you are in a 20th century town. There is an Irving Gas Station with antique cars; a saw mill (1949), general store (1924), tinsmith’s shop (1905) where you can buy a stove, cobbler’s shop (1945), a railroad station (1930). The Thomas Cooperage that dated from 1937 actually made barrels until 1980, employing 60 people who made 200 a day, until plastic barrels made the wood ones obsolete.

The Irving Gas Station at the living history museum, Village Historique Acadien, Bertrand, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You not only visit but can actually book a room to stay at the Hotel Chateau Albert (1910). Albert opened hotel in 1870 but had financial problems from the beginning and was put out of business by Canadian Pacific railroad.. The building was destroyed in a fire in 1955, and restored using the original plans. It now offers 14 rooms (with bathrooms) that you actually can book to stay overnight. (hotelchateaualbert.com, 506-726-2600).

You can stay over in the Village Historique Acadien, at the Hotel Chateau Albert © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a really nice café in the (modern) visitor center before you go back in time, plus a restaurant in the historic village serving a menu appropriate to the period.

Plan on staying at least three hours. Open June through mid-September.

Historique Acadien Village, 5 rue du Pont, Bertrand, NB, 1-0877-721-2200, [email protected], villagehistoriqueacadien.com  

Travel planning assistance from Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

See also:

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP BEGINS IN ST. ANDREWS

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA ROADTRIP: SAINT JOHN, CITY OF FIRSTS, OLDESTS, AMAZEMENTS

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: DISCOVERING FUNDY TRAIL PARKWAY, FUNDY NATIONAL PARK, CAPE ENRAGE

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: MESMERIZING HOPEWELL ROCKS

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: METEPENAGIAG HERITAGE CENTER HIGHLIGHTS MIRAMICHI VISIT

____________________________

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

New Brunswick Roadtrip: Metepenagiag Heritage Center Highlights Miramichi Visit

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Metepenagiag Heritage Center has artifacts that show 3,000 years of habitation of the Mi’kmaq people in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So often the best travel experiences happen by serendipity. I had left the Bay of Fundy coastal trail behind in Moncton this morning to continue our New Brunswick roadtrip, driving 90 minutes to Miramichi, a small city that’s the gateway to northern New Brunswick, Canada, renowned for hunting and fishing. I meet up with Amanda Craig, from Miramichi’s tourism office who was taking me to hike a mile-long trail to Fall Brook Falls (at 108 feet high is the highest in New Brunswick). It’s located in Irving Woodlands private preserve, but alas, the access road is closed. I had spotted a sign along the highway to the Metepenagiag Heritage Park and was really excited to learn more about New Brunswick’s First Nations history and so we head there.

Metepenagiag is so much more than a museum exhibition – it preserves, documents, honors and resurrects the Mi’kmaq heritage and culture.

Metepenagiag is an active archaeological site and research center where artifacts unearthed have provided proof the Mi’kmaq have been occupying this land for at least 3,000 years. When you first walk into the exhibition building, you can look into the lab where researchers examine artifacts. Some of the items, like a 1200-year old Earthenware pot, arrowheads and other items are on display.

Earthenware 1200 years old is on display at Metepenagiag Heritage Center, Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The significance of this place is clear when you learn that it was after decades and generations of a national policy to eradicate First Nations’ cultural heritage, when even speaking the language, so critical to passing along its oral history and tradition, was banned and children were forced from their community into residential schools to strip away their native identity, that in the 1970s, a Mi’kmaq member, Joe Augustine, discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow.

“When a company was planning to expand its gravel pit in our community, our beloved and respected Elder Joe Augustine remembered being told from his Elders before him of an old burial ground in the area,” state the notes accompanying a photo of Joe Augustine and Yvonne (Paul) Meunier digging at the pit state. “He went to the site they described and found what was to become the Augustine Mound – a cemetery dating back to over 600 BC.

Mi’kmaq Elder Joe Augustine discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow archaeological sites in the 1970s which provide evidence of 3,000 years of habitation in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The concept of preserving, protecting and presenting the rich Mi’kmaq culture is expressed by our Elder and lives on in our community.”

In 1977, archaeological work began on another site Elder Joe Augustine uncovered: the Oxbow, a village site situated at the head tide, showing Metepenagiag has had over 3,000 years of continuous settlements right to the present day.

Artifacts uncovered at the Augustine Mound and Oxbow show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Constructed about 2500 years ago, the circular Augustine Mound is a rare example in the Maratimes of the elaborate burial tradition associated with the Adena culture, which originated in the Ohio River Valley and then spread throughout eastern North America. The rich archaeological record found at the site includes well-preserved textiles and basketry, ornaments of Lake Superior native copper, Ohio fireclay pipes, and distinctive Adena-type stone tools dating back 7000 years.

The types of objects retrieved from the Augustine Mound are exceptional for this area of Canada – copper beads on leather, small pieces of baskets, textiles, animal hides, moose-hair work, porcupine quills, feathers and wooden-handled tools. The salts from thousands of copper beads helped save the raw natural fibers from decomposing.

Artifacts uncovered at the Augustine Mound and Oxbow show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The earth mound, the types of burials and the artifacts suggest that the Mi’kmaq of Metepenagiag probably carried on complex trading and cultural relations with other Aboriginal societies as distant as central Ohio.

Oxbow is one of the largest pre-contact archeological sites in the Maritimes and remarkable for its rich and deeply stratified record of almost continuous human occupation. The artifacts uncovered show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants. Seasonal flooding covered their camps with silt, preserving evidence of their everyday life, including stone tools, ceramics, and fire pits.

Archaeological research is actively underway at Metepenagiag Heritage Center, Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Known today as the Mi’kmaq (from the word nikmaq, meaning my kin-friend), in ancient times they called themselves Lnu’k, The People. The Mi’kmaq are an Eastern Algonkian-speaking people closely related to the Wolastoqiyik, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and the Eastern and Western Abenaki. Together, these nations formed the Wabanaki Confederacy.

“The findings of these two archeological sites scientifically prove the ancient oral history we have always known, passed down through many generations. This is our legacy and how two national historic sites came to be.”

“Elder Joseph (Joe Mike) Michael Augustine (1911-1995) left an important legacy: the rediscovery of the Mi’kmaq identity and culture as a people and as a nation.” Joe Mike served two terms each as Chief and as a Band Councillor.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center guide Marcus Alexander LaViolette poses with a photo of his great grandfather, Mi’kmaq Elder Joe Augustine discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow archaeological sites that proved Mi’kmaq habitation for 3,000 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This is archaeological proof of living here 3000 years,” says our guide,  Marcus Alexander LaViolette, heritage interpreter, a 20-something fellow who turns out to be the great grandson of Joe Augustine, making his remarks all the more poignant.  

One room displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season (they lived along the river in warm seasons, and moved to the forest in cold).

Mi’kmaq ancestors lived in wikuoms (wigwams), not tipis. Some cone- shaped wigwams could hold up to 30 people; A or V-type usually held large groups, which typically would have been built by women.

Marcus shows us a re-created canoe and the skin of an Atlantic sturgeon, which grew to a size “as long as a canoe.” A main food source for generations, the sturgeon, which could grow over 3 meters long and weigh 400 kilos, are now exceptionally rare – the last one was caught 30 years ago. “Sturgeon are an ancient fish in an ancient river; they haven’t evolved,” Marcus tells us.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center guide Marcus Alexander LaViolette with a canoe and skin of a sturgeon that once provided sustenance to Mi’kmaq, but now is virtually extinct © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The birchbark canoe “was likely the most remarkable Mi’kmaq construction.” It ranged from 3 to 8 meters long; with high ends and raised sides, a uniquely Mi’kmaq design, that kept the canoe from taking on water. Using this type of canoe, the Mi’kmaq ancestors traveled out to sea, up streams and down rapids. The canoe could transport large loads but was light enough so one or two people could easily carry it.

“We lost the tradition of canoe making,” Marcus tells us, “so this is a generic style for birch bark canoe.”

The exhibit hall is a portal to ancient history, he tells us, stressing that it is a point of pride that all the notes are equally translated in English, French, and Mi’kmaq, especially since only 5% of Mi’kmaq people can understand their native language. There are about 200,000 Mi’kmaq in Canada and in Maine.

Marcus notes that there the pots do not have a flat bottom but would be designed to wedge into the ground. They would boil or cook using superheated sand – which would form a crust around bread and not get into the bread. When it was done, they would pat it like a drum so the sand comes off, leaving the bread. “That they can recreate the process shows proof of concept – shows can do it, re-creatable.” (In the “Taste of Metepenagiag” package, guests learn how to make traditional bread.)

Metepenagiag Heritage Center displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The ancient Oxbow village was next to one of the best salmon fishing pools. For centuries the Miramichi River was a river of fish – so many salmon swam up the river that they would keep villagers awake at night as they fell on the water after leaping into the air. The ancestors smoke-dried a lot of the salmon catch for winter or to use in trade.

The Mi’kmaq ancesters knew the names and uses of trees, plants, flowers and herbs. Foods included fiddleheads, cat-tail roots, raspberries and blueberries. The bloodroot plant provided dye. Balsam fir helped to cure wounds. Canoes and containers were made from birchbark, wood and root, and mats from reeds and rushes. Sweetgrass and tobacco are still used in ceremonies.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“We slowed down First Contact,” Marcus says, then adds, “The Mi’kmaq way of life did not last. With the first Europeans came dramatic changes. The ancestors began to spend more time gathering furs to trade for the prized European goods. They became dependent on Europeans for food. European diseases killed whole Mi’kmaq villages. With few people left to pass on tradition, much knowledge and history was lost.” In fact, the British barred them from hunting or fishing.

This place had always been important for trade – there is even evidence of the Vikings having come. European merchant traders set up a commercial fishery on the Miramichi River in the 1760s that destroyed much of the traditional salmon fishery. “The few Mi’kmaq living at Metepenagiag struggled to survive.”

Local women made this re-creation of the magnificent embroidered, beaded coat made in 1841 for British sea captain Henry O’Halloran who was made an honorary chief of the Mi’kmaq, on view at the Metepenagiag Heritage Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is what made a magnificent embroidered, beaded coat that is on exhibit all the more significant, and treasured by the community: it is a re-creation of a fabulous coat, meticulously crafted by local women for a British sea captain, Henry O’Halloran. At a time when the Mi’kmaq were forced onto a reserve and weren’t allowed to hunt or fish, Captain O’Halloran traded with the indigenous people, provided food and formed a close relationship. The coat was made in 1841on the occasion of making him an honorary chief. This one is an exact replica, made by the local women, which if sold, would be valued at $300,000. (Marcus proudly says he got to model it.)

Marcus points to the Treaties of Peace and Friendship, saying, “When our ancestors signed treaties with the British Crown, such as in 1779, they did not give up ownership of our traditional lands. They also kept our rights to fish, hunt, gather and trade.” But these rights were not honored.

In 1994 Metepenagiag signed a historic “loss of land-use” agreement with the government of Canada. But it did not include all of the lands and access to resources that have been taken from our community. Negotiations are continuing in an effort to obtain a fair settlement.” Only recently, each tribal member received $20,000 from the Canadian government as compensation for land.

It is important to note that First Nations people – there are about 2 million in Canada – only received the right to vote without losing their native Indian status in 1960; the last residential school closed as recently as 1995. In 2014, Canada passed the Truth & Reconciliation Act, apologizing for the harm in trying to eradicate indigenous heritage, prompting a policy toward promoting indigenous rights and heritage. Indigenous tourism, a key tool for both economic development and preservation of indigenous heritage and culture, is now Canada’s the fastest growing industry, Amanda says.

At the end of our visit, Marcus says, “First Nations people don’t believe in goodbye – everything is a circle, comes back – even if in next life.”

Metepenagiag Heritage Park has 1800 meters of groomed trails (30 minutes walking time) that let you “walk in the footsteps of our ancestors” to the water.

You can overnight at the Metepenagiag Heritage Center in a tipi, lodge or cabin and be immersed in Mi’kmaq experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is more, you can overnight in a tipi (glamping), cabin or lodge, have a First Nations dining experience, storytelling and be immersed in the 3,000-year heritage around a campfire. Or take part in “A Taste of Metepenagiag” and learn about foods and cooking techniques. New experiences are also being developed.

The Mi’kmaq operate SP First Nations Outdoor Tours, authentic indigenous experiences that begin with a traditional welcome, a river tour by canoe or kayak, storytelling; and authentic First Nations dining and accommodations (56 Shore Road, Red Bank NB, Metepenagiag, 506-626-2718).

Metepenagiag Heritage Park, 2156 Micmac Road, Red Bank NB, 506-836-6118, [email protected] 1-888-380-3555, metpark.ca.

To get to the Metepenagiag Heritage Center, you go through a Mi’kmaq residential community of about 600 people, where you have to be a community member to own the home (but do not own the land). It looks like a typical suburban neighborhood. with its own school (the federal government subsidizes the public school but teachers are paid less than regular school teachers) and shopping center. After the museum was built, the community opened a woman’s shelter, health center. The community also owns Riverside Entertainment (gaming room, restaurant), downtown.

Sportsman’s Paradise

Miramichi is world renowned as a sportsman’s paradise for fishing, hunting, hiking, kayaking, tubing down the rivers, and the longest zipline in New Brunswick (1200 feet). Indeed, the rivers, filled with salmon, and lush wilderness that provided the food and shelter to sustain the Mi’kmaq even 3,000 years ago, continues to sustain Miramichi today.

Miramichi is so prominent for salmon fishing (baseball star Ted Williams used to invite major celebrities including Marilyn Monroe to his family cottage in Blackville), that there is actually an Atlantic Salmon Museum, founded by the local historical society in 1982, that displays 5,000 artifacts “celebrating the artistry of fly tying, the beauty of a well-crafted rod and, above all, the nobility of that ‘king of fish’ the Atlantic salmon.”

One of John William Keith-King collection of 150 plates on view at the Atlantic Salmon Museum in Doaktown, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most notably, the museum is the repository for the internationally revered John William Keith-King collection of 150 plates that feature exquisite flies combined with stunning artwork and historic photos, plus artwork, reels, fishing rods, fishing tackle, fish replicas and antique outboard motors. The collection is valued at $500,000 (the plates alone valued at $5,000 each), Believe me, I never thought such a museum could be so fascinating even to someone who has never fished for salmon. This place is pure bliss for fishing enthusiasts. (Admission is free. Check hours. 263 Main St, Doaktown NB, 506-365-7787, www.atlanticsalmonmuseum.com

The Ledges Inn, a sportsman’s retreat, Doaktown, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

People come from all over for the opportunity to fish and hunt, staying in upscale places like The Ledges Inn,  a 4.5-star outfitter with 10-room lodge, picturesquely set on the bank of the Miramichi River, where you can enjoy salmon fishing, upland bird-hunting, four-wheeling, snowmobiling (30 Ledges Inn lane, Doaktown NB, 1-506-365-1820, Ledgesinn.com); and the historic Wilson’s Sporting Camps, family-owned hunting lodge, offering sportsmen retreats since 1855(23 Big Murphy Lane, McNamee NB, 1-877-365-7962, Wilsoncamps.nb.ca).

Another local attraction is the Priceville Footbridge, which, local lore has it, was built in 1938 to unite two lovers who lived in villages separated by the river. At 656 feet, it’s the longest suspension bridge in New Brunswick, was damaged and rebuilt in 1939, then replaced in 1988 (McNamee Road. https://tourismnewbrunswick.ca/listing/priceville-suspension-footbridge).

Enjoying a plate of mussels at Vera’s at Richie Wharf, Miramichi, as the sun sets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back in Miramichi, I spend a pleasant evening at Richie Wharf, a charming waterfront park and historic site, where on Friday nights locals come out for music and dancing, After enjoying this scene, I have a delightful dinner (mussels!) at Vera’s patio with a gorgeous view of the sunset on the river. (84 Norton’s Lane, Miramichi, 506-625-2300)

Other Miramichi highlights: There are loads of historic sites we didn’t have time to visit but sound so interesting: Doak House commemorates Scottish entrepreneur Robert Doak who settled here in the early 1820s (386 Main St. Doaktown, 506-365-2026); Wilson’s Point Historic Site, a provincial historic site, contains the Scottish ancestry of Miramichi, but has archaeological significance for the Mi’kmaq people as well as the French Acadians and Loyalists (8 Enclosure Rd., Derby Junction, www.wilsonspoint.com, 506-627-0162); Miramichi History Museum (182 Wellington St., 506-778-4050); Tabusintac Library & Museum (4490 Rte 11, Tabusintac); and W.S. Loggie House & Cultural Centre, a Victorian home with artifacts from 1850 to 2000 (222 Wellington St., Miramichi, 506-775-4996).

Also: Miramichi River Interpretive Trail (1.4 km long, 158 main Street, Blackville; 90-min, Miramichi River Boat Tours out of Richie Wharf; Gallan’s Miramichi River Tubing (Doyles Brook, miramichirivertubing.com); Escuminac Beach (escuminacbeach.com); Historical Beaverbrook House Haunted Tour.

Rodd Miramichi River Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I overnight at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel, picturesquely set in the waterfront village (1809 Water Street, 506-773-3111).

The next morning, I meet up with David and Laini at the Calico Café; they have been exploring Prince Edward Island and Shediac, where they had a fabulous dinner at Le Mogue Tortue, a restaurant with an Alice-in-Wonderland like setting (tea cups,clocks!), and we continue on our roadtrip to French Acadia, where we will bike on the new Veloroute (bikeway) along the coast, through French fishing villages.

Miramichi Tourism, 800-459-3131, discovermiramichi.com.

Travel planning assistance from Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

See also:

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP BEGINS IN ST. ANDREWS

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA ROADTRIP: SAINT JOHN, CITY OF FIRSTS, OLDESTS, AMAZEMENTS

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: DISCOVERING FUNDY TRAIL PARKWAY, FUNDY NATIONAL PARK, CAPE ENRAGE

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: MESMERIZING HOPEWELL ROCKS

Next: Exploring French Acadia’s culture and heritage by bike!

____________________________

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

New Brunswick, Canada Roadtrip: Saint John, City of Firsts, Oldests, Amazements

Reversing Falls Rapids, one of only two reversing falls in the world, is where the Saint John River runs through a narrow gorge before emptying into the Bay of Fundy. The force of the tide of Fundy Bay – 160 million tons of seawater at high tide – overpowers the river, pushing it backwards. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, www.goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our roadtrip through New Brunswick, one of Canada’s Maritime Provinces, continues in Saint John, a city of firsts, of oldest, of amazements worthy of Ripley’s or Guinness, like the wondrous Reversing Falls (one of only two in the world), and Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark, where we will actually see remnants of Pangea – primordial earth before the continents split apart.

A City of Oldests, Firsts

Saint John is only about an hour’s drive from St. Andrews where we meet Doug Scott, who is taking us on a walking tour to best appreciate the history and heritage of Canada’s oldest incorporated city, the province’s second biggest city with a population of 135,000, the only city on the Bay of Fundy, and a major cruise ship port, which served as an major immigration center for 200 years.

It was into this port that explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed in 1604 –claiming it for France.

Fort La Tour National Historic Site, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We follow a beautiful waterfront walkway that is taking shape around to Fort La Tour National Historic Site, built in 1631 by Charles La Tour to trade with First Nations people. This has been an archeological site, but more recently, they have reconstructed the fort, “the site of treachery, intrigue and a memorable battle in early Acadian times,” the literature reads. It is also “commemorates 5,700 years of changing ceremonial, commercial and industrial uses.” (Harbour Passage, 506,607-7171, www.placefortlatour.com)

The “treachery” and “intrigue” comes from the fact that during her husband’s absence in 1645, Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, Madame de La Tour, unsuccessfully defended the fort against their chief rival, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay, who promised that if she surrendered, he would spare the lives of her people; she surrendered and he killed them anyway.

Though claimed for France, the British had different ideas, seeing Saint John as an important defensive port, and, when the British and French were embroiled in the French & Indian War (1754-1763) over control of the colonies, in 1755, expelled the French Acadians who did not swear an oath to Britain.

Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution founded Saint John in 1783, incorporating the city in 1785 (Canada’s first).

From Fort La Tour we can see out to the 24 acres of Partridge Island in the harbor, “the most historic chunk of rock in Canada,” Scott says.

Partridge Island had New Brunswick’s first gas-powered lighthouse (1791), North America’s first quarantine station (1785) and the world’s first steam-operated fog alarm (1859).

Much like Ellis Island in New York harbor, 3 million immigrants passed through here to make Canada their home. A flood of Europeans came through in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars; and from 1812-1850, 70 percent of immigrants were Irish, peaking in 1845-47, because of the Irish Potato Famine. There was tension between the British (Protestants) and the Irish (Catholics), that climaxed in an 1849 riot which led to the formation of Canada’s first police force. (You can visit the Saint John Police Museum, 56 Prince William St., 506-674-4137, www.saintjohnpolicemuseum.ca)

Saint John’s role as the gateway for immigrants is notable. There is the Saint John Jewish Historical Museum (91 Leinstar St., 506-633-1833, http://jewishmuseumsj.com/), focusing on the development and engagement of Saint John’s Jewish community since its founding in 1858, through its “Golden Years” (1919-1960s), when there 1400 Jews and 85 businesses.

From 1858 through 1947, Partridge Island was used for defense and still is a Canadian Coast Guard base. People used to be able to go to the island for concerts but today, the island is closed to visits.

Much of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada’s oldest incorporated city,had to be rebuilt (in brick) after the Great Fire of 1877 Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A white cross indicated a building that had been rebuilt after the 1877 fire © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

1877 was a pivotal year for Saint John: a Great Fire destroyed everything from the waterfront to King Street (you can even see the difference in architecture). 19 died and 7 newspapers, 16 churches and 2600 buildings were destroyed. The city brought in architects from New York and within one year, rebuilt 1,300 buildings using brick. Today, you see many buildings with dates from 1877, 1878, 1879; many also have white crosses to show that were rebuilt to a new fire standard.

Loyalist Cemetery, in King’s Square, Saint John, New Brunswick. Canada’s oldest incorporated city, it was founded by Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution in 1783 and incorporated in 1785 fire © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Scott takes us to a street which is pretty much the dividing line where the fire stopped. On one side are all the brick buildings. But just nearby, you can still visit Loyalist House (120 Union Street, 506-652-3590, www.LoyalistHouse.com), built by local merchant David Daniel Merritt around 1810, which is the city center’s oldest standing wooden structure. We also visit Loyalist Cemetery, in King’s Square, just behind the City Market, which is a beautiful park.

Another interesting place to visit is the New Brunswick Museum which houses historic and geologic exhibits (Market Square, 1-888-268-9595, 506-643-2390, www.nbm-mnh.ca) and its Archives & Research Library (277 Douglas Avenue), housing death and marriage records that draws people from all over to research.  (While the museum itself is in the process of undergoing an extensive renovation and the collections are currently inaccessible, you can still access the Archives & Research Library by appointment.)

City Market, Saint John, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have lunch at the Saint John City Market. At one of the entrances, a sign lists St. John’s City of Firsts:  oldest continuing operating farmers market in Canada; first police force; first public high school, first museum, library, paved street, banking district in Canada. The market is itself housed in a historic building, dating from 1876, its ceiling is in the shape of an upside down ship’s hull (a shipbuilder built it).

Stonehammer Geopark’s Amazements

Saint John is not only Canada’s oldest incorporated city, it is built on some of the oldest geology on the planet. For the geology part of our Saint John exploration, we meet up with Wanda Hughes who runs the Inside Out Nature Centre inside Rockwood Park (55 Lake Drive), and has been involved with the Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark since its founding in 2010, the first geopark in North America.

Stonehammer UNESCO Geopark, the first in North America, contains some 60 sites of geologic significance, including some of the oldest geology on the planet and evidence of Pangea, as well as some of the oldest fossils © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are now 177 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 46 countries around the world (the first opened in China in 1980s; Canada has five). But Stonehammer is distinguished because while most geoparks are a single site (like a cave or volcano), because of the extraordinary diversity and scale of geology here, Stonehammer contains 60 different sites, spanning 965 sq. miles up the coast to St. Martins, each site with a different geological story. During our visit, we get just a taste.

In Stonehammer Geopark in Saint John, you can see evidence of Pangea, primordial Earth before the continents split, and rocks that come from present-day Africa and South America in one place © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

350 million years ago, the earth was one super continent, Pangea, that through ice ages and other geologic forces, separated into 7 continents. But when the world was Pangea, New Brunswick was located where Africa is today, a tropical paradise south of the equator.

“Our geology is unique,” Hughes tells us. “As the continents drifted apart, a new Atlantic Ocean was created here.” You can see rocks facing each other, one that would have been in Africa (today), and the other that would have been South America today – two different continents.

Our Stonehammer Geopark experience starts in Rockwood Park, one of the Stonehammer Geopark sites. Spanning 2,200 acres with 10 lakes and 55 trails, it is one of the largest urban parks in Canada and was designed by Frederick Olmstead in the 1800s (who also designed NYC’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate). Before heading out, we actually get to try out hydrocycles! You can also do geo-caching, rockclimbing, kayaking, and mountain biking from the Nature Center.

Trying out hydrocycles in Rockwood Park, one of the Stonehammer Geopark sites in Saint John, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Enroute to one of the major Stonehammer sites, Reversing Falls, Hughes takes us through a wealthy neighborhood of Captain’s Houses and notes that Abraham Pineo Gesner (1797-1864), a Canadian physician and geologist who lived much of his life in Saint John, invented kerosene, saving whales from extinction and basically founding the petroleum industry.

Reversing Falls Rapids, one of only two reversing falls in the world, is where the Saint John River runs through a narrow gorge before emptying into the Bay of Fundy. The force of the tide of Fundy Bay – 160 million tons of seawater at high tide – overpowers the river, pushing it backwards. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reversing Falls,  one of only two reversing falls in the world (the other is in Norway), is a series of rapids (not really waterfalls) where the Saint John River runs through a narrow gorge before emptying into the Bay of Fundy. The force of the tide of Fundy Bay – 160 million tons of seawater at high tide – overpowers the river, pushing it backwards.

The tide can rise as much as 26 ft – how high depends on moon cycle, season (higher in spring), and the gravitational pull. But for about 20 minutes at a time, there is a “slack tide” when the river and bay meet, “when the ocean stops the river,” Wanda tells us. It is only then that you can safely bring in a boat. “American sailors who didn’t realize they had to change their clock [Atlantic time is one hour earlier than Eastern time] would get stuck.”

Reversing Falls, one of the Stonehammer Geopark sites, Saint John, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is hard to make out (you would really need to know where and what to look for), but there is evidence of an ancient ocean and the formation of the supercontinent Pangea under the Reversing Falls bridge: billion-year-old light gray marble from South America on one side and 500-million-year-old dark gray shale and sandstone from northern Africa on the other. They came together 480-430 million years ago. (See: Southern New Brunswick rocks tell a billion years worth of stories, says geologist.)

Not surprisingly, considering the power of these falls, there is a local legend from the Mi’kmaq people who lived here well before the Europeans that tells of Glooscap (the Creator), who was angered  that a giant beaver was damming up the river, harming fishing, and refused to stop. Glooscap used a giant club to smash the dam, which created the small islands we see, and then shrank the beaver to the size it is now.  (I gather this is the source of the name, Stonehammer.)

“At low tide, you can see Glooscap’s club and face in rock. And then they found fossil of giant beaver,” Wanda tells us. A banana-sized beaver tooth displayed at the New Brunswick Museum is evidence that giant beavers, the size of black bears today, actually existed.

Historically, such fast-moving waterways as Reversing Falls were used for manufacturing and commerce, like the Irving Paper & Pulp Mill © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the other shore of the Reversing Falls is the Irving Paper & Pulp Mill, a key industry and employer in Saint John, which seems incongruous but like so many factories, was built on such dynamic waterways because of the water power and transportation and that Saint John was an industrial city.

The bridge over the Reversing Falls gorge and rapids is notable. There were three previous attempts: the St. John Bridge Company tried in 1837, but the partially completed bridge collapsed, killing seven workmen. Finally, Edward W. Serrerell, who designed the first bridge to span Niagara Falls, was hired in 1849, and three years later, the first successful bridge opened, becoming a principal north-south trade link to the United States. (The current bridge was erected in 1915).

For a different experience, you can walk “The Plank,” an observation deck 110 feet in the air overlooking the Reversing Falls Rapids (https://theplank.ca/). 

Irving Nature Park, one of the Stonehammer Geopark sites in Saint John, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We next visit the Irving Nature Park, a 600 acre wooded park located on the City’s west side, which is a Stonehammer Geopark site, owned and maintained by J.D.Irving Ltd. That offers beautiful views of the Fundy coastline, groomed trails and a gravel road for walking, hiking, and biking. And just outside the main entrance is a Children’s Forest, playground, and life-size mazes. It is also a “dark sky” preserve. Be mindful of the tide!

The full complement of 60 Stonehammer geosites presents almost continuous geological history of the planet over a billion years. Of the sites, about a dozen are easily accessible by the public and are presented as parks and recreation centers.

Dominion Park, for example, is where billion-year-old stromatolite fossils in the marble that formed in South America and evidence of an ancient cyanobacteria, was where the oldest evidence of life on Earth was first identified in 1890; it also offers some of the best beaches for swimming in Saint John https://stonehammergeopark.com/geosites/dominion-park/

“This was the most violent place on the planet 250 million years ago, but not now. Here, [the continents] stabilized.” She says this place is an example of a “failed continental rift”, where the continents stopped separating, creating a narrow bottleneck which traps the ocean. “It’s why we have the highest tides.”

Stonehammer Geopark has an interpretation/visitor center at Area 506 Container Village which displays some of the fossil collection, and can provide map and guidance on how to best visit (Open June-October, 85 Water St., 1-506-471-1310, www.stonehammergeopark.com).

Wanda Hughes’ company, Go Fundy Events, offers a variety of ecotourism and adventure programs for individuals and groups (712 Dominion Park Road, Saint John, NB E2M 5S8, 506.672.0770, 1.866.672.0770, [email protected], www.gofundyevents.com.

Saint John’s Quirky Vibe

With all this history and serious geology, what is especially notable is the quirky vibe of Saint John, which you feel especially in the project to redevelop the waterfront to host shops, a skating rink and concert venue.

Area 506, the Waterfront Container Village, offers fun boutiques, eateries, pop up art, and music and movie space © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Area 506, the Waterfront Container Village, located next to the cruise ship terminal, opened in summer 2022 with some 60-plus shipping containers converted into retail spaces that showcase New Brunswick creativity. There is also a large stage performance and movie space, a three-level patio that provides great views of the stage and Bay of Fundy, a beer garden,  food trucks, a graffiti alley for local and international artists, and pop-up activities.

For all its history and 19th century architecture, Saint John, New Brunswick, has a young, quirky vibe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Saint John also “punches far above its weight in terms of dining experiences,” Scott tells us. There’s a vibrant food and beverage scene in Saint John with 80-plus bars/restaurants within 10 blocks downtown near the cruise ship terminal – all of them local and independent, offering an amazing diversity of cuisine from around the world (reflecting Saint John’s heritage as an immigration center and cruise port). 

For all its history and 19th century architecture, Saint John, New Brunswick, has a young, quirky vibe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We’ve even gotten a list of recommendations:

Port City Royal (45 Grannan Street), where we savor handmade ravioli filled with whipped feta and ricotta cheese, topped with buttery glazed fiddleheads, crispy guanciale and Egyptian walking onion oil;roast pork & chick shoyu ramen and Japanese spring noodle salad. It also offers an imaginative cocktail menu.

Saint John, New Brunswick, ”punches above its weight” in cuisine. We enjoy a dinner at Port City Royal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Saint John Ale House (owned by celebrity chef Jesse Vergen, from Top Chef and Wall of Chefs, 1 Market Square, https://www.saintjohnalehouse.com/

Lemongrass Thai Fare / Peppers Pub, 1 Market Square.

Five and Dime, vinyl record bar, 34 Grannan Lane, https://fiveanddimesj.com/

East Coast Bistro, local cuisine prepared with French techniques, 60 Prince William Street,

Pomodori Pizza – for a casual night out – attached to Picaroons brew pub, 34 Canterbury Street.

Picaroons Brew Pup is a popular spot in Saint John, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s appropriate to mention that (at least during our visit) the US dollar goes about 25% further than the Canadian dollar, so what we buy – like a fancy meal – is at a 25 percent discount.

Being a major city, Saint John offers lots of choices of accommodations. We enjoy our stay at Hilton Saint John, an upscale property with its own parking garage, ideally located right on the waterfront, with indoor pool, fitness center, restaurant, pet-friendly rooms (1 Market Square, +1 506-693-8484).

Travel planning assistance from Discover Saint John, 1 866 463 8639, [email protected], https://www.discoversaintjohn.com/ and Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123, www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

Next: New Brunswick Roadtrip Takes Us On the Newly Completed Fundy Trail Parkway

See also: NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP BEGINS IN ST. ANDREWS

____________________________

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

New Brunswick Roadtrip Begins in St. Andrews

Picturesque, historic St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, www.goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perhaps the most defining feature of New Brunswick, Canada is that it has the highest tides in the world. But unless you see it, stand in it, walk on the ocean floor one hour and kayak through rock openings the next, it is hard to wrap your head around what it means to say the Bay of Fundy has the “highest tides” in the world.

Rising tide, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Seeing, experiencing this phenomenon for ourselves is just one of the reasons that brought us to New Brunswick, one of Canada’s Atlantic Maritime provinces and the only one of its 11 provinces that is officially bilingual (English and French). Other unique aspects were also intriguing – like seeing the vestiges of Pangea, primordial earth before the continents split apart, in one of the world’s first and most expansive UNESCO Geoparks; fossils 3.5 billion years old; and the intriguing phenomenon of Reversing Falls (one of only two places in the world).

We are also really excited to sample a new bike trail, 375 miles around the coast, that let us tour its (very French) Acadian Peninsula, going through small villages where the flag most prominently waved is that of Acadia, not New Brunswick or Canada. And then there are the bonus surprises where you can see living history of the First Nations and a colonial Acadian Village.

New Brunswick also is surprisingly easy to reach, located adjacent to Maine (there are 17 border crossings), yet so delightfully foreign and exotic because it is relatively unknown and unexplored beyond New Englanders.

St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, a picturesque seaside historic town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We start our New Brunswick exploration in St. Andrews, one of Canada’s most popular seaside resort towns – wonderfully picturesque, with a surprising amount of things to do.

It is also where we will launch our 10-day trip that will take us on the scenic 286-mile Fundy Coastal Drive (St. Andrews, Saint John, St. Martins, Fundy Trail Parkway, Alma, Cape Enrage and Hopewell Rocks), and on to Miramichi and the Acadian Peninsula, where we will cycle the new Acadian Peninsula Veloroute from Tracadie to Shippagan, Miscou Island and Caraquet. (We are grateful to Tourism New Brunswick for creating our itinerary.)

St. Andrews, designated a National Historic Site of Canada, is a charming community with many of the town’s buildings still reflecting its founding by the United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution,  especially as we walk along Water Street.

Kingsbrae Garden

Renoir and Monet would have loved Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our first morning, we explore an absolute treasure of St. Andrews: Kingsbrae Garden, set on 27 acres donated by John and Lucinda Flemer. This was her family’s summer home – she tells stories of taking the train from their Montreal home and  hiding in the century-old hedges which we walk through today. In fact, at 93 years old, Lucinda still lives here, walks the grounds most days (making sure everything is up to snuff), Daniel Schmids, director of operations, relates as he guides us around.

In 1996, Mrs. Flemer wanted to do something to benefit the community. She originally thought to create a school to train guide dogs, but the tourism office suggested that a garden would benefit the community more, Lucinda was not a garden hobbyist, botanist nor landscape architect. Nor was Geoff Slater, the artist she chose to design her garden (we see his murals on Water Street). She laid out her vision for the Garden one evening sitting at her kitchen table with Slater over a bottle of wine, and Kingsbrae Garden opened two years later.

Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gardens are gorgeous – works of art, really – but they are so much more. You feel the heart, the compassion, that went into their creation and design. You feel as nurtured and protected as the flowers. I have never been so simultaneously excited and serene at the same time.

Kingsbrae pays tribute to some of the great garden traditions such as the White, Rose, Knot Garden, Perennial and Cottage gardens.

One of the classic gardens at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also experimental gardens where new and old styles and plant materials are used to preserve and promote home gardening, like the Container Garden (to give apartment dwellers ideas, inspired by her time living in England). Display gardens showcase various collections of plant species and their uses – Rhododendron, Heath & Heather, Ornamental Shrub, Dwarf Conifer, Herb, Hydrangea and Gravel gardens. But Kingsbrae goes far beyond horticulture.

Lucinda Flemer designed Kingsbrae Garden with an artist’s eye © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a Labyrinth & Maze, a Bee Garden (the bees essential to pollinate the flowers), a Monarch Garden (a certified Monarch butterfly way station providing not only the milkweed that Monarchs require but a protected place for the egg larvae to develop), a Secret Garden, and Memory Lane (a row of special trees planted in memory of someone).

Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, is a certified Monarch butterfly way station; larvae are taken and protected in shelters© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a Peace Garden and Afghanistan Memorial to honor and give comfort to war dead and veterans (military people get free admission); a therapy garden (the gardens work with Wounded Warriors to use gardening to relieve stress); a Scents and Sensitivity garden that invites you to identify the plant by smell or touch (the accompanying sculpture of a guide dog pays homage to Lucinda’s original idea). There is an orchard containing heirloom varieties of apple trees. An Edible Garden showcases edible plants, native and exotic fruits and berries (where the Garden Café chef makes a daily collection for his culinary creations before visitors arrive).

Animals are among the special delights at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Favorites are the Children’s Garden and a Fantasy Garden that provide outdoor environments for play and learning, with tiny cottages and animals including goats, alpacas and rabbits. The children’s garden is bordered by a “living fence” of 100 criss-crossing apple trees that have grown together over the past 10 years.

The living fence of criss-crossed apple trees border the Children’s Garden at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Possibly the most extraordinary sight is the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), a 200 million year old species thought to be extinct but re-discovered by a hiker in Australia; some were auctioned and a St. Andrews man won one and gifted it to Kingsbrae, now protected within a cage.

The rare, thought to be extinct, Wollemi Pine is on view at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Since dinosaurs roamed the earth to the present electronic era, a few Wollemi pines have patiently survived with their gene pool pure and unchanged, in the Blue Mountains of Australia. What was likely a tasty treat Cretaceous dinosaurs munched on for lunch is a botanical story of the century.”

One of the most magnificent displays is the working Dutch windmill, built to one-third scale. Mrs. Flemer’s husband, John, who was Dutch, had it built as an anniversary gift in 1997 (he passed 6 years ago).

Lucinda Flemer’s husband, John, had this one-third scale Dutch windmill constructed as an anniversary present. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can explore a kilometer-long groomed trail through the Acadian forest and an Audubon-certified bird sanctuary, which she created after a visit to India.

Lucinda Flemer had not been a gardening person, but was art-oriented and wanted to create Kingsbrae for “the eye of artist”.

The Gardens even offers an art residency for six artists a year, housed in a historic 1908 building she purchased.

Kingsbrae Garden is Canada’s largest private sculpture collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And all the way through, tucked here and there, are sculptures that convey a theme or message or are just whimsical (like an apple core you can sit on), as well as a Sculpture Garden. Indeed, Kingsbrae Garden is Canada’s largest private sculpture collection. For many years Lucinda sponsored a sculpture competition, purchasing the top prize winners for the Garden. Now she commissions works. We see the most recent acquisition, a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, appropriately in the Heath and Heather Garden.

A sculptural tribute to Queen Elizabeth II in the Heath & Heather Garden at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Everywhere you look there is some delightful surprise.

Lucinda Flemer built the garden and then decided to build an 1100-seat amphitheater – in a town of 2500 people! “People laughed. But she thought, ‘Build it and they will come,’” Daniel tells us. And they did. The amphitheater hosts 8 to 10 events a year including Broadway productions (a local actor was Broadway’s “Come From Away” and “Rock of Ages,” and his wife is a casting director), in 2022, one event filled the amphitheater twice.

“She was inspired by what was done well, so she brought here to show people what they otherwise wouldn’t see – the same with art residency. People get to experience different culture.”

Seniors who live in a residence next door come in for free through a special gate. In July and August, there are special mobility tours by golf cart.

Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, offers whimsical delights like this apple core sculpture that invites you to sit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have the most delectable lunch at the Garden’s Café, with items enhanced by the freshly picked produce from the garden, which also houses an Art Gallery. On view are paintings created by the artist who designed Kingsbrae, Geoff Slater (he’s known for paintings out of a single line in changing colors) who also painted the murals on Water Street.

Café executive chef Alex Haun, grew up in St Andrews, started working at Kingsbrae at15 years old as a dishwasher (his father managed the garden). Haun went to Canadian Culinary Institute, competed in International Culinary Olympics, winning multiple gold medals. He probably could have gone anywhere in the world but returned to Kingsbrae. His Signature 12-course “Savor” dinner menu, offered three times a year, sells out immediately.

Kingsbrae Garden, 220 King Street, St. Andrews, 506-529-3335, www.kingsbraegarden.com (Open May-October).

Whale Watching

Dave and I have to rush away from this delectable lunch to get to the dock for a whale watching tour with Jolly Breeze Whale Adventures.

Jolly Breeze Whale Watching Adventures, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Whale watching is very popular in St. Andrews and there are many different companies. I am thrilled to be taking Jolly Breeze’s 12-passenger Zodiac – extremely comfortable, low to the water, very flexible so you are unlikely to get sea sick, and the Captain can maneuver more easily to get closer to a whale (keeping an appropriate distance).

It is very early in the season and it is really by virtue of Captain Randy’s experience (he started working on the boats when he was 13), knowing whale behavior and pattern and skill that toward the end of the 2 ½ hour cruise, we spot a Minke whale.

But even if we didn’t get to spot a whale, the cruise is really fun on the Zodiac.

The picturesque East Quoddy Lighthouse is spotted on Jolly Breeze Whale Watching Adventures, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

They dress us in gear that looks like we are off to explore the Arctic, so we are absolutely comfortable on the Zodiac. We get to see the picturesque East Quoddy Lighthouse, built in 1829 on a small, rocky islet located off the northern tip of Campobello Island (was frequented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and today is the world’s only national park, shared by two countries, Canada and the USA), as well as puffin and seals.

Jolly Breeze Whale Watching Adventures, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

If it had been a little more into the season we might have seen as many as four different whale species that frequent this area at different times in the season. One of the regulars is an Orca they call “Old Tom.”

There is not much splash on the Zodiac, so you can bring a good camera with long lens and a dry bag is available on request.

Jolly Breeze Whale Adventures on the wharf at 4 King Street. 506-529-8116, https://jollybreeze.com.

Ministers Island

Driving across the sand bridge to Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We need to pull ourselves away from wandering St. Andrews’ charming downtown by 5 pm, in order to visit Ministers Island, Canada’s largest tidal island and a National Historic Site. Since you have to drive across a sand road (Bar Road) that is quickly overrun at high tide, covered by 15 feet of water (when it becomes an island), we have to mind the time. We will have to be off at 7 pm when the tide quickly envelops the road (rangers round up any stragglers). Each day, there are two windows of opportunity to travel to the island depending on the tide schedule.

Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ministers Island is a 500 acre island, 2 miles by 1 mile, located in Passamaquoddy Bay,  where Sir William Van Horne built his summer home, Covenhoven, in 1890 – a 50-room mansion, with 17 bedrooms, 11 fireplaces, 11 bathrooms – and the only place still standing that is associated with this significant historic figure.

Sir William Cornelius Van Horne was an American recruited to build Canada’s 2,900 mile-long transcontinental railroad system, finishing a year ahead of schedule (earning a $1 million bonus).

The mansion remained in the Van Horne family until 1961 when it was sold to two Americans, our guide, Susan Goertzen, relates. By 1977, they wanted to auction it off and sold off most of furnishings and artifacts. But three days into the auction, the Province of New Brunswick stopped the sale and bought it. The mansion was closed from 1977 until 1992.

In 2004, a local group took over the operation and put out a call to get back some of the original furnishings and artifacts. It is furnished today with original and period pieces. Most interesting are the paintings that Van Horne painted, the portraits and photographs, the travel posters, the original ice box and stove, his billiards table and game room.

Van Horne’s original dining set at Covenhoven on Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the “Canadian Pacific Room” you learn a lot about Van Horne – an inventor, an amateur geologist who collected fossils (his collection was given to the University of Chicago), an artist and a major art collector. It is said he only slept four hours a night.

Truly a self-made man, Van Horne, was born in Illinois in 1843, and had to quit school at age 14 when his father died to go to work as a telegraph operator for the Illinois Central Railroad. By 1880 he was general superintendent of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad system. In 1881, he was recruited to become general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway and by 1885, had completed the transcontinental railway system.

The self-made man, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, built Canada’s transcontinental railroad © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.co

Van Horne was not only the architect of Canada’s transcontinental railroad, he was the progenitor of its tourism industry, designing and building a network of Canadian Pacific Hotels. One of the original hotels was the Algonquin here in St. Andrews, where we get to stay; another was the famous Banff Springs Hotel.

We visit the windmill he built to pump water from a 10,000 gallon holding tank (actually a railway water car) 127 feet below ground into the house for running water.

Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You also can see the carriage house (a gorgeous carriage inside) and an amazing barn which features antique cars, and the magnificent 1911 bath house that overlooks a “natural” swimming pool cut from the rock just below. The setting is absolutely stunning, and can also be enjoyed picnicking and hiking on several marked trails.

There is much to explore on Ministers Island: a shell midden archaeological site, and the 1790 home of Loyalist and Anglican minister Samuel Andrews, a creamery, a livestock barn, a boarding house, an automobile garage, a horse stable, and a greenhouse. 

But the tide will soon come in and we have to hurry back. Dave and Eric opt to run down from the hilltop mansion along the trail over the sand bridge (we are only a little concerned about them making it before the tide overwhelms the road again), back into St. Andrews, where we meet for dinner.

Ministers Island, 506-529-5081 https://www.ministersisland.net/ (Open May-October, Admission, $17/adults).

Dave and Eric race the incoming tide as they dash from Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Where to Stay, Dine

There are so many charming restaurants and cafes along Water Street.

The previous day we sampled some of the town’s marvelous restaurants and sights.

The Niger Reef Tea House (1 Joes Point Rd, St. Andrews, 506-529-8005, nigerreefteahouse.com) is a real find, offering the most marvelous ambiance and distinctive cuisine. It’s where the locals go for an elegant, sophisticated dinner in a homey, casual, comfortable but classy atmosphere. It looks like a Japanese teahouse – in fact, the magnificent murals painted by Lucille Davenport in the 19th century were uncovered when the residence was converted to the tea house in 1926.

Enjoying a meal and the ambiance at Niger Reef Teahouse in St. Andrews © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We start with the oysters served on kelp that chef Anthony Davidson has dashed out to the Bay to gather, enjoy the jerk chicken and pesto pizza, and finish with the delectable strawberry rhubarb crumble (the rhubarb is growing in the garden).

The setting – a sprawling lawn that goes down to the Bay – also lets us explore The Blockhouse, the town’s last remaining wooden defensive structure from the War of 1812 (great for picnicking and view of harbor).

Sunset, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This evening, we find a delightful deck to enjoy the view of the wharf and sunset at Saint Andrews Brewing Company (201 Water St.,  506-529-2337) set in what was the Customs House, which serves snacks but invites you to order in the rest of the meal. We order from a delightful restaurant just across the plaza, The Red Herring Pub, (211 Water St., 506-529-8455 – they even delivered!) and just revel in the scenery.

Sunset, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We go down to the wharf to take in a magnificent sunset, but I rush away to get to our hotel, the grand, historic Algonquin Resort, in time for the 9 pm Ghost Tour.

The Algonquin Resort is reputed to be haunted and is said to be the inspiration for Stephen King’s horror story, The Shining. (Bangor, Maine, where King lives, is a two-hour drive from St. Andrews.)

The Ghost Tour is a fun way to see parts of the resort you would otherwise never see. We creep through the underground passageway (the staff wasn’t allowed to be seen by the guests in their street clothes) as our guide tells the story of the tunnel being haunted by a ‘night watchman’ (people hear his keys rattling). There is a haunted piano (one of only two items from the original 1889 hotel that was saved from a fire that destroyed it in 1914; Van Horne had it rebuilt and reopened just six months later) which people claim to hear play even though it is locked shut with a key that cannot be replaced; he tells about a boy named Benjamin who people claim they hear bouncing a ball.

Walking through underground passageway on the Algonquin’s Ghost Tour St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I finish the ghost tour in time to take in the wonderful ambiance of the resort and enjoy the Algonquin’s indoor pool and water slide.

One of the original Canadian Pacific Hotels (another ingenious Van Horne idea to promote travel on the railroad) and now part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, the Algonquin lets you drift back into that grand era as soon as you step across the threshold.


The grand, historic Algonquin Resort, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Set on a hilltop overlooking the town (and just next to Kingsbrae Gardens), The Algonquin has the most magnificent outdoor pool complex, an indoor pool with a water slide, tennis courts, 18-hole golf course. It also has a fleet bicycles available just for the asking to bike over the beautiful Van Horne Trail, built on what had been the train tracks. We wake up early to take advantage before we have to tear ourselves away (you really want to stay) to continue on to our next New Brunswick adventure, in the historic city of St. John.

Algonquin Resort, 184 Adolphus Street, St. Andrews, 506-529-8823, https://www.marriott.com/en-gb/en-gb/hotels/travel/ysjak-the-algonquin-resort-st-andrews-by-the-sea-autograph-collection/

For planning help, visit Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123, www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca   

Next: New Brunswick Roadtrip: Saint John, a City of Oldests, Firsts, Amazements

____________________________

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