Category Archives: Museums and Exhibits

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 

European Waterways Alsace-Lorraine Canal Cruise: A Boat Guillotine, Two Tunnels and a Monumental Chagall

European Waterways luxury hotel barge, Panache, approaches the “boat guillotine” at the Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 6 Lutzelbourg to Niderviller

On Day 6 our European Waterways luxury hotel barge, Panache, cruises from Lutzelbourg to Niderviller where the cruise ends, during which we experience some of the most dramatic cruising – thrilling even considering how calm and restful the slow cruising on the canal is – of the trip.

I set out on the bike along the towpath but come to a fork and am confused which way to go, so return to the Panache. It’s a good thing I did return to the boat because the bike path would have taken me away from the boat.

Indeed, the canal takes a turn and we get our first view of an astonishing sight: the Arzviller boat elevator that will carry Panache 45 meters up a mountainside in mere minutes.

Captain Brian excites us with the image of a “boat guillotine”. But before we have the experience (we have to wait our turn), we tie up and walk a short distance to Cristal Lehrer (Cristallerie Lehrer) glass-blowing factory where we get to see demonstrations of the craftsmanship involved.

Demonstrating glass making at the Cristal Lehrer glass factory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1920, there would have been 1500 glass workers in this area. One of the workers was Charles Lehrer. Decades later, his son, Bruno Lehrer, founded this glassworks.

Demonstrating glass blowing at the Cristal Lehrer glass factory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get to observe from an amphitheater as glassblowers heat the molten glass to 1700 degrees Celsius; use different oxides to create the different colors and shape them into a range of items.

Bruno demonstrates how he cuts glass at the Cristal Lehrer glass factory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the cutting and etching room, a craftsman named Bruno shows us how he cuts shapes into a glass, etches images like a swan or a bird, changing the wheel for a different cut and then engraves my name in the glass, which he gives me as a gift. He tells me he has worked in this factory with his father from when he was 14 years old; now 86, the master craftsman is here every day demonstrating his skill. (It occurs to me later whether this is Bruno Lehrer, himself?)

Arzviller Boat Elevator

The extraordinary Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

An engineering feat when it was installed in 1969, and still the only one of its kind in Europe, before the Arzviller boat elevator was constructed in 1969, it took boats an entire day to navigate the 17 locks over four kilometers to ascend the 146 feet in altitude.  Before the Arzviller boat elevator, only one barge a day could pass through, but today, as many as 39 can make the trip each day.

Panache heads into the “boat guillotine” to enter the Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Now back on the Panache, it is our turn to go through the “boat guillotine” – really the black door that comes down to seal the carriage, like a bathtub, into which our boat floats, to be carried, like an elevator, up the hill.  Two counterweights, weighing 450 tons each, powered by two winches, lift or lower barges safely up and down the hill at a 22-degree angle. It takes four minutes for us to be lifted to the top, where the door rises and we continue our journey on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin.

The Panache is lifted up the Arzviller boat elevator © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What an experience, but the drama isn’t over.

Coming out of the boat elevator, we cruise a bit further until we come to an enormous tunnel, just exactly the width of the boat, cut through the Vosges mountains.

Panache enters the first of two tunnels through the mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is unbelievably exciting to go through – I don’t even go down for lunch, which is served by candlelight – until we get through the tunnel, some 30 minutes later.

But that is not all, because we will soon come to a second tunnel that takes 20 minutes to get through.

Panache navigates the narrow tunnel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In between the tunnels, I go down for lunch which is also an event –fennel and anchovies salad; orange duck with couscous, and selection of cheese. White wine from Alsace, Gewurztramine 2020, a vegan, “vin biologique” wine “Evidence” ( named to reflect “the respect we have for biodiversity in our vineyards as “evidenced” by the return of game birds to our land, which has inspired this label”).

Captain Brian keeps watch as Panache navigates the narrow tunnel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And yet, there are still more astonishments to unfold on this day, our last full day of the cruise.

We are driven to Sarrebourg, a classic, historic French town.

Lunch served by candlelight as Panache goes through the tunnels © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Monumental Chagall

The astonishing highlight in Sarrebourg comes at the Chapelle des Cordeliers. Built in 1265 by Franciscans, the church was used for barracks during the French Revolution; in 1870, during the German Annexation, the church was used for worship for German soldiers. From 1927, the History and Archaeology Society converted the chapel to a museum. But by 1970, the building, near ruin, was demolished, leaving only the choir of the chapel and an open space where a wall should have stood.

Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Mayor of Sarrebourg at the time, Pierre Messmer, a former Prime Minister of France, entreated his friend, the world-famous artist Marc Chagall to create stained glass windows that would close the empty space. Chagall agreed to do it as a gift to the town. It took Chagall six months, from December 1973-Febuary 1974, to produce a series of six sketches for what became his largest stained glass window, 12 meters high by 7 ½ meters wide.

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Messner had asked Marc Chagall for Sarrebourg to be featured. Chagall, who had never been to Sarrebourg, had planned to visit in the summer of 1974, but he was not well enough to travel, so relied on photographs. It took two more years (1974-6) for master glassmaker Charles Marq to create it in the Simon de Reims workshop, where Chagall had all his stained glass projects produced. “There is all the genius of Chagall – the monumental dimension, the light and the transparency of the final realization,” the notes say.

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chagall died in 1985 at the age of 98 after creating one more stained glass work, but never saw “The Peace” installed. (https://www.sarrebourg.fr/parcours-chagall/chapelle-des-cordeliers/)

“For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating. It has to live through the perception of light,” Chagall wrote.

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

La Paix (“The Peace”) puts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the center, surrounded by a multitude of Biblical and religious symbols and subjects, as well as secular images that give a nod to the Alsace-Lorraine, our guide, Philippe Zugmeyer, explains, showing us Chagall’s sketches which we can compare to the finished work. “The face of Eve is very bright, white, brightest image. They are smiling, showing love. Look closely and you will see the face of girl from Lorraine – identified by the regional headdress she wears.”

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He points us to the Prophet Isaiah in green, an important symbol for Chagall of reconciliation of all creatures. There are the lamb, cow, bear, snake, lion. There is King David with a harp. Jacob’s ladder. Jesus on a donkey heralded by people smiling and cheering.  Jesus giving his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus on the cross. There is a baby to symbolize maternity (not nativity, he notes). Moses with two beams of light emitting from his head.

Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This is not a religious lesson, it is profane [secular],” he tells us. “It is about the region. Peace and reconciliation.” But he adds, “There is a lot we can’t explain – it is up to you to find your own meaning in the Chagall. What is clear is that Chagall intended to bring unity – peace. There are Old Testament and New Testament themes, symbols and imagery.”

Detail from Marc Chagall’s monumental stained glass window, La Paix, at the Chapelle des Cordeliers, Sarrebourg, France © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition to “The Peace,” the stained glass windows on the side walls were also designed by Marc Chagall. 

I never expected to see anything like this on this day.

From here we walk a short distance to the affiliated Musée du pays de Sarrebourg (Museum of Sarrebourg and its surroundings). Created in 1905, it was originally only an archaeological museum. Today, it is a modern building that includes a space dedicated to Marc Chagall, tapestries and an exhibition of earthenware and porcelain from the Niderviller manufacture and Roman artifacts.

Yvette Cauquil-Prince’s tapestry based on Marc Chagall painting on view at the Sarrebourg museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the tapestries created by Yvette Cauquil-Prince (1928 –2005), a Belgian-born weaver and master craftswoman who reproduced the works of renowned 20th century artists including Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Calder. But she is best known for her association with Chagall, producing over 40 tapestries of his works with meticulous, even impossible detail, several which we see here.

Sarrebourg, France, visited on European Waterways’ Panache Alsace-Lorraine canal cruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gala Captain’s Dinner

This is our last evening aboard The Panache and while each meal has been the ultimate in fine dining, tonight’s Captain’s Dinner when Captain Brian heads the table, has the feeling of a gala with formal table setting – white tablecloth, red cloth napkins, candlelight.

Last night’s Captain’s Dinner aboard Panache is a gala affair © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The meal features peas and wasabi tartlet; Jerusalem artichoke; lobster tail piquillos; chocolate with truffle; cheese selection. The wine is Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots (2018) from Albert Bichot, founded in 1831and still family-owned, and a Pino Noir Grand Cru from Burgundy (2014).

“This wine is like walking in forest after rain- grapes come from plot of soil at bottom of hill in Burgundy,” says Brian, who comes from Burgundy. “Grown in the forest, the grapes are half protected from the morning sun. Less sun, less sugar, less alcohol. The forest brings moisture, humidity – freshness. It’s very fresh – the flavor of rose, forest flavors, then red berries, an oak barrel and voila.

The Panache crew © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Captain Brian, who chose tonight’s cheeses, regales us with the back stories: Comte, a favorite of cow’s milk cheese from Franche-Comte, he says, “is a treasure. This is a tiny piece of huge wheel. To make it, you need the milk from 30 cows’ full day production.

The second cheese, Valencay, a hard goat cheese from the Loire, has a fabulous story:  after his disastrous campaign in Egypt, Napoleon visited the town of Valençay and was treated to this renowned cheese. For Bonaparte, the shape of the cheese – a pyramid – reminded him of his recent defeat so he furiously drew his sword and in one stroke cut off the top.

Third is Roquefort, the best blue cheese, bred where the mold comes to the cheese (instead of injected). “Legend has it that a shepherd boy left his lunch in a cave, but returned some time later to find the moldy cheese. He tried it.– don’t ask me why, he’s very French – and instead of getting sick or being poisoned, found the cheese delicious. That’s how Roquefort was discovered.”  (Interesting anecdote I discover: Before penicillin was discovered, many people in France simply rubbed Penicillium roqueforti on their wounds to prevent bacterial infection.)

In the course of our six-day cruise, I calculate we sampled 36 cheeses –about half of all the controlled French cheeses – and 40 wines.

We see gorgeous scenery, to be sure, but the barge experience is about doing, being present, the camaraderie. And so there are sentimental farewells when we depart – the seven days we have spent together feeling like a long time and as no time at all.

“Travel makes the world feel big and small at the same time.” “Travel is the elixir of youth.”

The next morning, we are driven back to Strasbourg – 45 minutes to cover the distance we have traveled in six days cruising (and biking). I have enough time to continue to explore Strasbourg before I take the TGV train to Paris.

The Panache does this Alsace-Lorraine cruise on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin in both directions, but I was thrilled going the way we went, from Strasbourg to Niderviller because there is a constant build up of excitement, starting with floating through that stunning alee as we sail into Strasbourg, and climaxed by going up the incline (in this direction) and through the two tunnels, with the Marc Chagall on the last day.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises the Marne au Rhin canal through France’s Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 12-passenger luxury hotel barge Panache cruises the Alsace & Lorraine in summer and autumn; Holland in the Spring, when the flowers are in full bloom, and  Champagne in May & June (Champagne itineraries typically include Brie cheese tastings, a tour of the Cathedral at Reims, Epernay and of course, tastings at renowned champagne houses).

This year, European Waterways celebrates its 50th anniversary of its founding by Derek Banks and John Wood-Dow, who helped pioneer the concept of hotel barging and itineraries that focused on culture, history, fine wine and gourmet cuisine. Among the first to operate on the Canal du Midi, their efforts helped spur a new niche travel industry that proved instrumental in the revitalization of Europe’s intricate network of scenic canals and inland waterways as tourism destinations – giving new life to villages and communities that had depended upon the canals that no longer carried commercial cargo.
  
With a 6-to-20 guest capacity and 1:2 crew ratio, European Waterways is able to provide lavish on-board service and can transport their guests on the narrower, more intimate inland waterways that are inaccessible to larger vessels. This fascinating network of smaller canals allows for flexibility, spontaneity and ample opportunity to hop off and explore by bicycle or on foot, in addition to walking tours of communities and daily, chauffeured excursions “off the beaten path” to experience wine tastings and private visits of stately homes.

One of the largest providers of all-inclusive luxury hotel barging in Europe, European Waterways is launching its newest, ultra deluxe vessel, the eight-passenger Kir Royale. Debuting in France’s Champagne region in May 2024, the vessel features major upgrades that include a more spacious layout with modern furnishings, three sundecks and a spa pool, an upper observation deck with a panoramic view, and four air-conditioned cabins with en suite bathrooms.

Kir Royale will cruise the River Marne and Canal latéral à la Marne, offering six-night all-inclusive sailings with exclusive excursions to some of the region’s legendary Champagne houses such as Moët & Chandon. Guests will also be treated to immersive experiences such as lunch at the boutique Grand Cru Champagne house of Frerejean Frères, and on-board gastronomic meals with wine pairings served by the vessel’s own master chef.
 
Kir Royal will cruise Champagne from May through October. It joins European Waterways’ 12-passenger Panache, which cruises between Château-Thierry and Châlons-en-Champagne from mid-May to late-June. Both vessels provide private transfers from a designated location in central Paris. Reservations are now open, with rates starting at $8,550 per person, based on double occupancy. Whole boat charters are also available.

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

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

_______________________

© 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 

European Waterways Alsatian Canal Cruise: Mystery of the Necklace in Saverne, Lalique in Lutzelbourg

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge, Panache, cruises through the historic city of  Saverne on the Marne au Rhin canal through France’s Alsace-Lorraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 4 Waltenheim-sur-Zorn to Saverne

On this fourth day of European Waterways’ seven-day cruise cruise on the Marne au Rhin canal through France’s Alsace-Lorraine, the luxury hotel barge Panache cruises to the enchanting town of Saverne, boasting a history that dates back 2,000 years to Gallo-Roman times. We will tie up right in the town at the foot of the Château de Rohan, a palace built for a Cardinal that is so grand, it is known as the “Versailles of Alsace.”

Sue, who hails from Australia, and I are up early enough to go with Captain Brian into the village of Waltenheim-sur-Zorn to the most remarkable patisserie I have ever seen to pick up breads and other delights for our breakfast. The boat departs at 8 am on the dot (I had just stepped off for a photo and got back just in the nick).

Stopping into a patisserie in Waltenheim-sur-Zorn to purchase breads for breakfast aboard the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Captain Brian tells me that I can bike up to lock 32 and the boat should be there around 2 pm. I do my calculation: Locks 42-41 are 4 km apart; locks 37-36 are 4 km (we will be there around lunchtime) while it will take the boat four hours to get to 37.

The biking on the towpath alongside the canal takes me passed some of the prettiest pastoral scenes on the route (especially between locks 39 to 37, from Lupstein to Dettwiller).  It’s classic.

Gorgeous pastoral scene just outside Saverne along the Marne au Rhin canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I think I get in 20 miles riding all the way to Saverne and doubling back to lock 36 to get back on the boat for lunch

Lunch features French beans with aioli; crayfish with risotto – superb. The white wine is Sancerre La Ferriere 2021 (coincidentally, the book I am reading that day mentioned the same wine!) and the red wine-Sancerre La Louisonne (2016), a Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises on the Marne au Rhin canal to Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We continue our onboard discovery of French cheeses with Mimolette (also known as Boule de Lille), a cow’s milk cheese produced in Flanders and Normandy, has a marvelous story: a French version of Edam, it has a distinctive orange color that was developed for King XIV in the 18th C. A further study reveals that it was developed “on the advice of his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, that the way forward for the French economy was to export as much as possible and import as little as possible. France was pretty much bankrupt at the time and this strategy was aimed at balancing the budget. Colbert was also a big fan of taxes and micro-management.” (https://brieencounter.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/todays-cheese-is-mimolette/). We also experience Brillat-Savarin, a soft-ripened triple cream cow’s milk cheese with a natural, bloomy rind.

Chef Leo’s crayfish with risotto © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At 3:30 pm, Captain Brian takes us on a delightful walking tour of Saverne, pointing out exquisite architecture – and here, I really appreciate the difference between wandering around and having someone who can point out the interesting details.

Saverne became really important for its geographical location – set where two major Roman roads converge, where you can access the Rhine and Rhone to go to the Netherlands, or where it joins the Seine to go to southern France. Not surprisingly, Saverne’s authority changed between France and Germany several times in history, and its cultural imprint – architecture, food, language – reflect both.

We come to a statue of the city’s emblem, the Unicorn, just in front of the Chateau Rohan,

Here, Brian attempts to relay in abbreviated form the “Mystery of Necklace,” This was a colossal scandal involving “the most expensive necklace of the Middle Ages, most beautiful, with the biggest diamonds in the world” that in today’s money would have been worth $15 million, helped bring down Marie Antoinette for her perceived excess and lead, ultimately, to her execution in the French Revolution. (I subsequently learn, she actually refused the necklace, because she said her country needed ships the money would buy.) But the connection to Saverne is this Chateau de Rohan, because at the heart of the scandal was Cardinal de Rohan who built the opulent palace. The mystery comes because the necklace was stolen and never found. (The events are even more dramatic than Alexandre Dumas’ “Three Musketeers”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Diamond_Necklace)

A 14th century cloister in Saverne displays 17th century frescoes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk to a 14th century cloister, a stunning example of Gothic architecture with a garden where medicinal herbs were cultivated; it is ringed by a portico and impressive 17th century frescoes which tell of a trial.

We walk to the Hotel de Ville – the city hall – a stunning historic building that manifests the city’s mix of culture: a Germanic balcony and a French balcony.

Saverne’s historic Town Hall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is adjacent to the oldest and most ornate building still standing, Maison Katz. Built in 1605 by Henri Katz, the Receiver General of the Bishopric, its beautiful façade of sculpted timber is a superb example of the German Renaissance style. Today, it is a popular restaurant. (Taverne Katz, 80 Grand’Rue 67700 Saverne, +33 (0)3 88 71 16 56, https://www.tavernekatz.com/en/restaurant).

The stunning decoration of Maison Katz, dating from the 17th century, in Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Befitting wealthy property, it is also very close to the Church Notre Dame, built in the 12-15th centuries, with Romanesque arch and a Gothic interior. Remarkably, the Chapel has the original 15th century stained glass; the rest has stained glass from the 19th century.

Church Notre-Dame in Saverne dates from the 12th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Musée du Château de Rohan

We walk next to the Château de Rohan, overlooking the Marne-Rhine Canal that we have been cruising. Historically the residence of the bishops of Strasbourg, it was rebuilt by Cardinal de Rohan in 1779 in neoclassical style with magnificent gardens and a 140-meter-long façade made of Vosges sandstone (like the Notre-Dame of Strasbourg).

Chateau de Rohan has been called the “Versailles of Alsace,” and today is Saverne’s city museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The palace today houses the city museum. Founded in 1858, the museum exhibits art from the churches and castle of Saverne, a large archeological collection of Roman and Celtic artifacts from the excavation of the Marne-Rhine Canal, the collection of 20th century and ethnological art donated by feminist journalist and politician Louise Weiss, and a fascinating exhibit about her life and times.

Weiss trained as a teacher (against her family’s wishes), and throughout World War I worked as a war nurse and founded a hospital; from 1918-1934, she published a magazine, L’Europe nouvelle. In the 1920s, she left France to see the world “to discover true meaning,” spending time in Communist Russia, meeting Lenin and Trotsky. From 1935 to the beginning of World War II she committed herself to women’s suffrage and ran for Parliament in 1936. She was active in the French Resistance during the war and was the chief editor of a secret magazine. After World War II, she said she knew nothing of Asian people, and again set off to travel the world. In 1979 she became a member of the European Parliament. She died in 1983.She said her only regret in life was not being a candidate for president. She reminds me of a French Eleanor Roosevelt. (I learn later there is a statue of Louise Weiss at the fountain in the square.)

I walk back to the boat just before 6 pm, arriving as a trio comes on board, to regale us with French (“C’est si bon”) and gypsy jazz. Fabulous.

A French Jazz trio entertains us aboard the Panache © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The joy from the music carries over into dinner: trout with a tomato crumble; cod with tapioca and black garlic; a scrumptious dessert of strawberry with elderflower (that Chef Leo picked from his own garden that day). Every dish is so imaginative, distinctive, and magnificently presented.

Chef Leo, who typically introduces the main course, explains that the cod is cooked slowly at low temperature, the black garlic sauce made with burnt shallots. It gives a wonderful, unexpected flavor. “I love experimenting with different flavors,” he tells us.

One of Chef Leo’s delectable dessert creations © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The white wine is Grand Cru Alsatian Reisling, House of August; the red a Grand Vin d’Alsace, Pino Noir (2012).

The cheeses this evening include a creamy, buttery cow’s milk cheese, cousin to Brie; Abondance, a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese from Haute-Savoie, aged for three months on spruce blocks that has a delightful walnut taste; and Bleu de Gex, a creamy, semi-soft blue cheese made from unpasteurized milk in the Jura region).

Day 5 Saverne to Lutzelbourg

Going through the highest lock on the Marne au Rhin canal, in Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Leaving Saverne, we go through the most dramatic and highest lock of all – it must be 30 feet high. I watch this feat, then hop off with the bike to ride the route to Lutzelbourg.

European Waterways’ luxury hotel barge Panache cruises on the Marne au Rhin canal from Saverne © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I return to the boat, just in time to see Chef Leo give us a cooking demonstration of the passionfruit crème brulee he is making in response to Sue’s request. It is so much fun to watch his preparation – Captain Brian pitches in, too.

We take note of a (tongue-in-cheek) “firing board” in which Captain Brian keeps tabs on who is in the running to get fired – whoever has the least checkmarks at the end of the quarter gets a prize.

Chef Leo gives the Panache guests a cooking demonstration of his passionfruit crème brulee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lunch features asparagus and cream; beef with cheesy mash potatoes (vegetarian option salmon) and the passionfruit crème brulee (parfait!). The wines are an Alsatian Riesling, Lieu Dit Burg, and an Alsace Pinot Noir (2018), Famille Hugel.

Chef Leo’s passionfruit crème brulee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After lunch, we are driven to the Lalique Museum.

Lalique Museum

Situated in the picturesque village of Wingen-sur-Moder, Lalique Museum celebrates the work of the jewelry designer and glassmaker, Rene Lalique.

Lalique founded his workshop here in 1921. Throughout his lifetime, Lalique crafted jewelry, medals, perfume bottles, vases, chandeliers and glass, and we swoon seeing the collection of more than 650 of Lalique’s most stunning creations, which incorporate enamel, precious stones, and glass, gloriously displayed, with fascinating video projections and huge photographs to tell the story of the Lalique dynasty.

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hallmark of Rene Lalique’s jewelry design was its exquisite precision and tiny detail in the insects, fauna, flowers– you can see the wind fluttering the flower petals, every feather on a bird, a hair comb in the Japanese style has a rising sun.

“All were his ideas, his designs. He designed every piece and could name to whom sold. Renee Lalique was a control freak – he never slept more than 3 hours.”

He was on the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement but was regarded as too modern, too eccentric for Catholic sensibility, she tells us. “Too modern for Cartier. But this became the fashion.”

Rene Lalique drew his inspiration from Egypt, from Japan, from the Middle Ages, but gave these inspirations a totally new expression, his own stamp.

He became famous after winning a gold medal at the 1900 Exposition, a celebration of modernism in which electricity in Paris and the first subway were unveiled, attended by some 50 million visitors.

Rene was as brilliant a businessman as he was an artist, inventor and entrepreneur, pioneering branding, marketing, merchandising techniques. “Every perfumer demanded a new bottle, a special stopper.”  

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He created a joint advertising/marketing campaign (perhaps the first) with the perfumer, Molinar. “He created demand for the next collection, for perfume, then for toilet water.”

For the 1925 Exposition, he created a17-meter high glass fountain that looked like stone during the day but was lighted at night. “People then didn’t have electricity at home – it was too modern for Paris.” At the exposition’s end, he sold the statues as a limited edition.

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn how Renee Lalique, who lived from 1860-1945, innovated new techniques and modern mass-production processes. Though Rene knew the process to turn regular glass into crystal (by adding lead), it was his son, Marc, who took over upon his death in 1945, that steered the company into crystal glass production.

There has been a glass factory in Alsace since the 15th century and they still find pieces. Lalique, who had been producing glass in Paris, came here in 1921 and built a modern factory to produce flat glass (it was cheaper here than Paris and the French government, which had regained control of Alsace after the war, provided funding to build the factory.)

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum, which was conceived in 2000 and opened in 2011, is housed in an old glass factory that dates from 1750, producing flat glass for windows, that closed in 1868. The Lalique factory that is still in use – the only Lalique factory in the world – no longer has any members of the Lalique family involved.

After three generations of Lalique had led the company, with no heirs to inherit, Rene’s granddaughter, Marie-Claude Lalique, sold the company in 1994 to the Pochet Group; it was acquired in 2008 by Arts et Fragrance, a Swiss group owned by Silvio Denz. (Marie-Claude Lalique died in 2003.)

Stunning examples of Renee Lalique’s creations are on view at the Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Because the Swiss bought the factory and exclusive rights to the Lalique name, our guide tells us, it was difficult to create a museum with Lalique name, but the museum, funded by the state, the Alsace region and the village, ultimately won.

Everything is produced here in the factory (which we don’t see) – “a timeless collection,” our guide says.

The delightful tour finishes with a marvelous video showing production in today’s factory. There is also a wonderful shop.

Musee Lalique, 40 rue du Hochberg, Wingen-sur-Moder, phone +33 3 88 89 08 14, https://www.musee-lalique.com/en/

La Petite Pierre

The 15th century castle at Le Petite Pierre © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, we drive to the hilltop town of La Petite Pierre where there is a 15th century castle. It is late in the afternoon (the setting sun makes for gorgeous colors), and the village looks absolutely vacant, abandoned – almost like a movie set. We walk the ramparts of the castle.

La Petite Pierre seems like a movie set © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our drive back to Lutzelbourg takes us passed Wingen-sur-Moder, the World War II battleground where American infantry fought with distinction.

The ruins of Château du Lutzelbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But our adventure is not over – we drive up to the top of a rocky promontory, 322 meters high, that overlooks the Zorn valley, the town of Lutzelbourg, the canal and the Panache to walk among the ruins of the Château du Lutzelbourg. Built by Pierre de Lutzelbourg in the 11th century, the castle was destroyed in 1523; in 1840, the ruins of the castle were to be sold to build the railway but saved from demolition by Adolf Germain, a notary in Phalsbourg. In 1900, the owner at the time, Eugene Koeberle, excavated the ruins. The ruins we visit are more interesting that the intact structures – especially in the late afternoon light. And what a view!

The ruins of Château du Lutzelbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

People can hike up a trail (and down) from the town, and I am itching to hike back down to the Panache, but am discouraged because it is too late in the evening.

The view from Château du Lutzelbourg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are greeted back on board with “French 75,” a cocktail of gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar syrup (delicious).

Dinner starts with John Dory served like cerviche, with mint and horseradish in a “veil” gelatin with black lemon, Chef Leo shows us the dried black lemon he uses – it comes from Iran where it is dried for month and presents a smokey, lemon flavor. It is sensational.

Chef Leo’s John Dory served with mint and horseradish in a “veil” gelatin with black lemon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The entrée is a perfectly prepared lamb with truffle and cauliflower with amazing, rich flavors that burst (monkfish is the option for vegetarians)

Chef Leo’s dinner entree of lamb with truffle has amazing, rich flavors that burst © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The wines are a Beaune Premier Cru Basion, 2017 Domaine Chanson Chardonnay, and Gasies Margaux 2014 Bordeaux. The cheeses tonight include Tomme de Brebis, a Basque-style cheese half cow, half sheep milk; a Munster from Alsace and Bleu d’Auvergne. The dessert is a phenomenal blueberry tart with white chocolate mousse.

Chef Leo’s blueberry tart with white chocolate mousse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chef Leo sits down to chat with us after the meal. The 28-year old is spending his first season on the barge hotel. Born in central France, he knew since he was just four years old that the only job he wanted was to be a chef. “My grandma cooked. I loved eating.” He moved when he was 14 to attend catering school. He spent 7 years in Alsace and 2 years in London learning pastry.

“I’ve been in many places, many helpful places.” He likes the freedom of having his own kitchen, doing his own shopping, creating his own recipes. “When I fail, it’s my fault. If I could, I would be 24 hours in the kitchen.”

Chef Leo, aboard European Waterways’ Panache, says he loves to experiment with flavors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

He says he feeds the crew what the guests eat. “They don’t deserve it,” he jokes. “We have a budget for the crew but I pilfer to feed them the same so they understand what I am serving you.”

His dream (of course) is to have his own restaurant, near Colmar in Alsace.

I tell him his plating is gorgeous. He says his friend is a gallerist. “She helped me with art – color, textures, shapes. Presentation is half of the dish.”

I ask his flavor philosophy. “Really clear and simple – not more than 3-4 items on plate. Popping flavor. I’m always trying new stuff. On the barge, I am free to try. Every week I have new ‘guinea pigs.’ I always try to improve myself in the kitchen. It’s best to learn on my own.”

I think we really lucked out on this European Waterways barge hotel canal cruise.

The Panache in Lutzelbourg as morning fog lifts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next morning, we wake to an atmospheric fog, and as the Panache cruises and I cycle away enroute to Niderviller where the cruise will end, we get a last view of the tops of the ruins of Chateau de Lutzelbourg.

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

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

Next: A Boat Guillotine, Two Tunnels and a 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 

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

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musee d’Orsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ile de la Cite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuileries Garden, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

Petit Palais, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eiffel Tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

There are also new guided tours which must be booked online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musee D’Orsay

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Sainte-Chapelle

Tuileries Garden

Place de Concorde

Champs-Elysee

Eiffel Tower at night

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

Next: Day2 Highlighted by Le Louvre

See also:

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

VISITING PARIS THIS YEAR? PLAN IN ADVANCE

_______________________

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

Visiting Paris This Year? Plan in Advance

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During my four days in Paris, I visited:

Arrival afternoon:

Arc de Triomphe

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

Day 1: (Sunday)

Musee D’Orsay

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

Sainte-Chappelle

Tuileries Gardens

Place de la Concorde

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

*

Day 2 (Monday)

Le Louvre

Notre Dame (again)

Isle de France

Marais District/Holocaust Memorial

*

Day 3 (Tuesday)

Marais District/Holocaust memorials

Place des Vosges

Museum of Paris History (a highlight)

Musee d’Art D’Histoire du Judaism

Musee Picasso-Paris

Bastille monument

Place Royale

*

Day 4 (Wednesday)

Montmartre

Musee Montmartre

Dali Gallery

Sacre Coeur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arc de Triomphe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One such event was just winding up as I arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Musee D’Orsay Highlights Day 2 in Paris

See also:

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

_______________________

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

Experts at NY Travel Show Offer Tips for Satisfying, Meaningful, Purposeful Travel

A wedding couple in Hangzhou, China. Travel is how ideas, innovations and progress, improved living standards and quality of life are spread among peoples, as Marco Polo proved. Travel is humanity’s best hope for peace and cooperation as people from different places see and appreciate that we are more alike than different, and appreciate the differences. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s like this: travel is humanity’s best invention to promote the advancement of civilization. Travel is how ideas, innovations and progress, improved living standards and quality of life are spread among peoples, as Marco Polo proved. Travel is humanity’s best hope for peace and cooperation instead of zero-sum annihilation, as people from different places see and appreciate that we are more alike than different, and appreciate the differences. Travel is a community’s best hope for providing the economic underpinnings that provide jobs, upward mobility and enable people to stay on ancestral lands, have the funds to preserve and protect the environment, culture and heritage, and yes, make the adaptations and mitigations to prevent the ravages of climate change. Indeed, just as the travel industry has led the way with e-commerce, yield management, and  loyalty programs, the industry – the third largest in the world – is leading the way on climate solutions,

Tourism is what provides the economic underpinnings to support jobs and upkeep of such treasures as the Treasury at Petra, Jordan. To avoid crowds, stay overnight and enter the ancient city in the early morning © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel also is life-enhancing, enriching, potentially life-changing and among the best therapies against despair – providing a conduit for forging social connections, self-improvement, overcoming fear, anxiety and apprehension by fostering understanding and empathy, broadening perspectives. The experience of travel fosters resilience, self-confidence, self-reliance, adaptability, forges lasting bonds of family and friendship and broadens perspective and outlook.

That’s not just me saying it. It’s what travel experts with collective experience of decades (including myself), have seen and experienced firsthand.

“When we travel, experience the world, it changes us in a deep and profound way,” Pauline Frommer of frommer.com, told a standing room only audience at the most recent New York Travel & Adventure Show at Javits Center. “Right now we live in such a divided word – different facts inform our view but when we travel, we see the truth on the ground, that other countries have something to teach us, we can bring that back, and present an impression of America that is positive in places that may not have positive impression of America. Even with climate change, travel is one of the best tools in our ongoing search for creating world peace. So have wonderful, relaxing vacations, but your trips also can be meaningful and you can make a difference when you travel.”

“Consume news, but don’t let that make you a frightened person,” advises Rick Steves of ricksteves.com. “Be outward looking. If we want world to be peaceful, we have to build bridges. We can be challenged and stimulated by smart people who do things in smart ways. We can celebrate the Moroccan dream, the Bulgarian dream, just like the American dream – there is room for lots of dreams, As a traveler, we get to enjoy them all….[If we want a world of] peace and stability, the most powerful thing we can do as individual Americans is to travel and get to know people.”

Machu Picchu, Peru: travel has the potential to be life-enhancing, life-changing. But don’t put off your “bucket-list” experiences because you never know if there will be a pandemic, a political issue, a climate disaster. “Carpe diem,” says Patricia Schultz, author of “1000 Places to See Before You Die”

The COVID pandemic reinforced the value of travel – the three years of lockdowns and constrained travel upended local economies, while shutdowns that kept people from traveling underscored the human need for connection, for renewal, for new horizons to broaden perspectives.

“A life lesson we took away from COVID and postponed pleasure is that there is never a guarantee that we will be able to travel tomorrow or next year- our health, our need to care for people, political situation, climate disasters. Carpe diem,” says “1000 Places to See Before You Die” author Patricia Schultz.  She reflects on the places that she had included but have had to drop off her list recently – Ukraine, Syria, Iran even Jerusalem. “The lesson from this image [of people at the Western Wall] is carpe diem – if some place is on your bucket list and you think, well, the Pyramids will always be there, guess what? Don’t take anything for granted.”

And so with the pandemic in the rearview mirror (at least for now), people are traveling with furor and we are back to worrying about being crowded out and the potential impacts – and actions to prevent – overtourism. COVID-generated technologies and policies for advance purchase, capacity control are here to stay.

The excitement for traveling to the four corners of the globe and in every style, from decompressing on a beach, to joining an expedition to see gorillas in Uganda, to standing up for Ukraine by showing up in Ukraine, was evident at the New York Travel & Adventure Show, where booths were crammed and talks by experts including Rick Steves, Peter Greenberg, Pauline Frommer, on traveling smart, well and meaningfully were standing room only.

But because there is a whole world out there, you can make choices of where and when to travel. Don’t like crowds? Try to visit a destination when less crowded (though there is less of an “off-season” or “shoulder” season these days); find the “hidden gems” that offer as much atmosphere, experience and character; visit attractions either very early or later in the day (to avoid the hoards of cruise passengers and daytrippers); overnight in those charming, historic cities and villages (preferably in or within walking distance of the historic district) so you are there in the early morning and the evenings to enjoy the stillness and light without the hoards of cruisers and daytrippers; and pre-purchase tickets, city/museum/attractions passes so you don’t waste valuable time and money standing in line to purchase tickets. Climate and weather also have become major issues that should factor into where and when you travel.

Their message: By all means, experience the highlights of a place, but go further afield to seek out local experiences, opportunities to visit or stay in neighborhoods. Be a mindful traveler, a purposeful traveler: enhance the experience by learning the background, the stories and back-stories, hire a local guide, take a “free” walking tour (you basically tip the guide), sign up for some volunteer opportunity to give back to the community; seek out those tour programs that provide immersive opportunities to engage with locals.

The Pont du Gard aqueduct, for example, is the most-visited ancient monument in France. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world. Most people see it as a pretty photo op and do not understand how innovative the engineering was – how the Romans brought water from 30 miles away – and what a difference it made in the lives of people who didn’t have to spend hours of their day in pursuit of water.

Meet the people who live on Inle Lake, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“For a lot of tour groups, it is just a pretty bridge, a potty break, a souvenir stand. [But learning the backstory], humanizes this site,” says Rick Steves says. “How to carbonate the travel experience is about how to connect with people..Too many tourists sit on folding chairs watching yodeling on stage, but not connecting, and back in the hotel, only interact with other Americans. It’s a vacation, to be sure, but what is missing is what it means to travel.

Steves urges travelers to “get out of their comfort zone, to see culture shock not as something to avoid, but as the growing pains of a broadening perspective.”

“Become a cultural chameleon – physically change from culture to culture because it’s different.” That means going to where the locals hang out in the evening, drinking Ouzo in Greece, whisky in Scotland, tea in England, red wine in Tuscany, beer in the Czech Republic.” Go three blocks off the main drag to find the restaurants popular with locals; for some meals (breakfast, lunch) go to local groceries and markets and picnic. Seek out the family owned two-star hotel, inn, lodge, hostel or AirBnB – that not only saves money but adds enrichment because of a more “authentic” experience.

Pre-planning is the way to mitigate wasting time and money in line or with crowds.

“There are two types of travelers: those who wait in lines and those who don’t. Think carefully of minimizing lines,” Steves notes.

Crowds in front of the “Mona Lisa” in Le Louvre in Paris. Travel experts at the New York Travel & Adventure Show offered tips on how to avoid crowds and the lines, especially in places like Paris, where advance purchase of tickets to major museums and attractions is essential. In Paris, purchase the “Museum Pass.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before you go: get an idea of the attractions and sites you want to visit (I query “Three days in….” at TripAdvisor and other travel writers to get some idea). Then, go to the attractions’ websites to get all the visitor FAQs (can I take a water bottle into the Vatican; a backpack into Le Louvre – not likely after the latest incident of vandalism against the “Mona Lisa”). As soon as you have your travel dates (that is, your air fare), immediately reserve the tickets– if the attraction is a highlight for you it is a highlight for most others. Your priority places will set the framework for your itinerary, and the time saved by not waiting on line can go to those serendipitous experiences and discoveries. The same with restaurants you have your heart set on frequenting – book a reservation as soon as you settle your dates.

Take advantage of city passes, museum passes (a must for Paris) and attractions passes from companies like GoCity.com and CityPass.com, as well as the passes offered by the cities themselves, like the PragueCoolPass.com. They not only let you breeze through, but give extremely helpful information about current exhibitions, hours, directions, visitor information.

The PragueCoolPass maximizes your enjoyment of this historic city, like visiting its famous Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Try to book the earliest opening hour of the day in order to minimize the crowds, but in any case, book the earliest time available in order to have the most amount of time.

If you are visiting an outdoor site like the Acropolis in Athens, avoid mid-day when it is not only hot as blazes, but overrun with thousands of visitors who have come off cruise ships or day trippers. Come either as soon as the Acropolis opens in the morning, when it is cool and uncrowded, or at the end of the day (as I did), when the light is a gorgeous golden, the views of the city are amazing, it is cooler and the biggest crowds have left.

Visit attractions like the Acropolis at the beginning or at the end of the day to avoid the crowds and the heat and enjoy the golden light © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

This is also the advantage of overnighting in the most charming cities like Bruges, Strasbourg, Seville, Venice, Prague, Amsterdam, Fez and important sites like Petra – choose a hotel in the historic district that is walking distance to everything but you get to enjoy in the early morning and evening when the lights/lighting/colors are so amazing, the canals like mirrors, the city streets are quiet and empty, before the onslaught of cruisers and daytrippers.

Overnighting in the boutique Flanders Hotel in Bruges’ historic district means you get to have this impossibly picturesque city to yourself at night and in the quiet of the morning before the daytrippers overrun it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Take advantage of “free” walking tours in cities – local guides work for tips. These are great way to get an orientation. Search “free walking tours” and read the reviews.

Also, in major cities like Paris and London, you can buy mutli-day transit tickets for the train/bus (you can also do bikeshare), so that instead of paying the price of a taxi or Uber from airport into downtown, you can purchase the pass that includes the train or tram from the airport, and not have to wait on lines to purchase individual tickets from machines and deal with the confusion of zones and station names.

Searching muiti-day tour finders is a great way to get an idea of how to organize your time, what to see, what you should pay, and find tour programs that might best meet your needs. Frommer recommends Travelstride.com and Tourradar.com. These marketplace sites, she notes, can introduce you to local companies instead of the big-name tour operators.

Considerations for choosing the right tour company: price (per diem) is only one consideration, also consider what is inclusions (all meals aren’t necessarily a good thing, you might prefer to be able to go off and find those local favorites instead of a restaurant that caters to foreign groups); traveling companions (it is fun to travel with people from other countries, not just Americans); expertise of the guide; demographics of the tour company (often there are family itineraries; women-only; solo travelers; small groups (EF Tours, Audley Travel); price (luxury versus mass market) and age such as younger travelers (Contiki) versus older (Road Scholar) (visit www.frommers.com: How to pick the right tour company for you”).

Discovery Bicycle Tours stops at a winery at the end of the day’s ride in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Bicycle tours are ideal for women and solo travelers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find day tours, attractions, guides: Getyourguide.com; airbnb.com/experiences; tripadvisor.com. Foodies could look to TravelingSpoon and Eatwith. I like contexttravel.com.

Also be sure to pre-book rail (for example, raileurope.com) and bus transportation (flixbus.com is terrific) between cities. Find schedules at Rome2Rio.com.

Taking the train from Paris to Strasbourg, France. Be sure to book your ticket in advance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find the best airfares (always tricky), Frommer recommends searching Momondo.com/Kayak.com, Skyscanner.com, and CheapoAir.com. Momondo (and Kayak, which are owned by the same entity) tended to consistently find the lowest fares, and have filters that let’s you select for everything from the type of plane (if you wanted to avoid a Boeing 737 Max 9, or if you wanted to find the airlines with the cheapest fares with a checked bag.

But the experts also recommend that after searching for the best fares, you book directly with the airline, ”because if you book through a third party, you can’t rebook as easily as directly through the airlines” if there is some delay, cancellation or need to change. “Search but don’t book,” Frommer says.

Frommer also railed against “drip pricing” – the extra fees that airlines attach (even though Biden has waged a campaign against junk fees.) US airlines average $78 in added fees; European airlines average $58. So for United, the average is 122% of the base fare; for jetblue it’s 147%; but for Sun Country its 201% and for Frontier, its 376%, so the added fees can be higher than the fare.

When you search for an airline, Frommer consistently recommends you “Hide your identity” “Use a privacy setting on the browser, or use a different browser and different computer if you return to search fares” because the airline will track you, gauge your interest and post higher fares.

Also, there are optimum times to search and book:

  • Purchase airfare on Sundays (6% cheaper domestic travel, 13% cheaper international)
  • Book 28 days out (“the sweet spot”) for domestic travel (24% savings), 2-4 months out for international (10% savings)
  • Start your trip on a Thursday (16% savings over flying on a Sunday)
  • Fly before 3 pm (to avoid the 50% increased risk of being cancelled or delayed)

For best hotel rates, book 3-plus months in advance for resorts like Hawaii, Mexico, Caribbean, Florida but just one week before in business cities (New York, London, Paris, Denver). “It takes courage to wait to book one week before travel, so book a refundable room in advance, then search a week ahead of travel.”

“For first time in 20 years, I am having to research New Jersey hotels for people coming to New York City, because on September 18, the city got rid Airbnb, and all the cheap hotels are filled with migrants. Hotels were  charging $900 in December compared to $129 in January for the same room.”

Welcome to Riad el Yacout, built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university, which stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse, Fez, Morocco, booked on hotels.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find “secret hotel discounts, Frommer is recommending seeking out travel clubs like RoomSteals, the new Travel & Leisure Club, professional associations’ travel clubs – some which have fees to join – and @Hotel on Instagram (no fee to belong).

How do clubs have “secret: rates? “Hotel companies have contracts with Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity etc. and are not allowed to offer publicly deeper discounts (more than 5-10%) than they give to expedia, orbitz). But if they can’t fill their rooms, they turn to the clubs.”  On the other hand, the clubs often do not show as much information as you need about services and the like.

Also, Frommer notes, Airbnb isn’t necessarily a bargain over hotel rates. “Now because so many extra fees, a recent study showed in 48 of 50 states you pay more at Airbnb than hotel (two exceptions are Nevada and Louisiana). But AirBnB is great for groups, families, if you need a kitchen (and want to save money cooking), but on average, you no longer save money on a rental vs. hotel.”

On the other hand, Frommer has always been a big booster for home exchanges – where you actually trade the use of your home for someone else’s – a way to save money but also really live like a local.

“You can go anywhere in the world – a Paris apartment, a houseboat in Sausalito.” Among the exchanges are HomeExchange.com.

Pauline Frommer cautions about getting too cautious – fearful – of traveling abroad,

Pointing to the recent US State Department’s worldwide travel advisory in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, she notes that Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela all have travel advisories against coming to the US because of the gun violence epidemic. “Venezuela thinks it is too dangerous to come here.”  The State Department’s worldwide caution for Americans, is as if to say, “’Don’t travel anywhere, the world is too dangerous. That’s mind boggling. Yes, listen to the US State Department, read the cautions, but understand the rest of the world is terrified to come here.” There is a lot to listen to, though – such as where women of child-bearing age should be mindful of Zika, or where there is political instability or widespread crime, and urges travelers to enroll in the State Department’s “Smart Traveler” program.

The experts advise purchasing travel insurance and soon after you purchase your flights, so that you are covered if for some reason you have to cancel.

Pauline Frommer suggests looking for travel insurance that covers “Cancel for any Reason” (CFAR), includes medical evacuation and covers pandemics (policies do not necessarily cover “fear of travel” if there is a pandemic but a destination isn’t closed by authorities).

“Say the destination has a new strand of COVID but didn’t shut down, and you decide not to go – if you cancel with regular insurance, it won’t be covered – because ‘fear of travel’ is not included. A CFAR policy allows you to cancel for any reason – it’s more expensive, but will repay 75% of costs.

All the experts discourage purchasing travel insurance from the travel provider (tour operator, cruiseline), but to use apps that give you different policy recommendations based on your needs (date of travel, who traveling, age, destinations) such as Squaremouth.com, Insuremytrip.com and Travelinsurance.com.

“Inevitably the most expensive policy covers the least, but the best is usually in the middle,” Frommer advises. “Never ever buy from the travel company you are going with – if they go belly up, you’ve lost insurance too.”

Angel Castellanos (www.angelestravellounge.com) offered more tips on traveling smart with technology, like Google Fi (which makes its own SIM cards and has free international data roaming in most countries) and T-Mobile (which do not charge roaming fees for international calls; calls are 25c/minute; unfortunately, it is rare to get internet service with T-mobile abroad; you use the available WiFi) instead of having to pay for an international phone/data plan. Also, consider purchasing an international SIM card for $2.

For digital safety, he recommends installing a VPN (a virtual private network) on to mask your identity when you are on a public network, with digital thieves trying to steal passwords. He recommends ExpressVPN which works all over the world.

Flying, definitely register for TSA Precheck (costs $75, good for 5 years, and some credit cards rebate the charge), and CLEAR, which uses biometric data to verify your identify, and let’s you go directly from the kiosk to the front of the line “like a VIP. In certain airports that can make the difference in making the flight.” And several business credit cards like American Express Platinum rebate the cost of Clear.

Denver International Airport. Use TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, MyTSA, to breeze through the airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can also install the MyTSA app on your device, a free app that gives real time information for what is happening at airport – how long the security line is taking, if one area of the airport is closed and you need to go through TSA in a different location.

Now, the Homeland Security department offers mobile passport control, even if you are not registered for Global Entry (which is similar). You can enroll by submitting passport information and responses to CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) – the free version requires you to enter passport information each time – answer the questions, then you get to whisk through a third line (the regular line, the Global Entry kiosk, and now the Mobile Passport control).

“Google is one of biggest game changers for international travel,” he notes. You can download maps in advance so they are available when you do not have access to WiFi.

The same is true for languages. “Language is no longer a barrier. You can program a phrase like ‘I’m allergic to peanuts,’ and it will show it written as well as speak. You can download the language in advance so it can translate even when offline. You can use the camera function to translate foreign languages into English.”

Of course this eliminates the delight and satisfaction of finding a local person who can either speak English or mime an answer to “I’m lost, Can you tell me how do I get to….?”

____________________________

© 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