FRANCE

Petit Palais: 6 Fun Facts About This Paris Attraction

Looking for not-so-typical things to do in Paris? Visit this gorgeous palace art museum where the garden café and iron staircases are works of art themselves.

Le Petit Palais (and le Grand Palais across the street) were built as permanent fixtures for the 1900 World Exhibition

Le Petit Palais (and le Grand Palais across the street) were built as permanent fixtures for the 1900 World Exhibition

There are so many sites to see in Paris that even after a week, we felt we had barely scratched the surface. There are the biggies (the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Notre-Dame) and there are the ones that appeal to Duke’s and my warped sensibilities (the Catacombs, Père Lachaise Cemetery).

And then there are the attractions that make what I like to call the B list. These are the ones that are great to see once you’ve ticked some of the others off your list. Especially if you’ve visited Paris before, you’ve got an opportunity to hit some of the lesser-known sights. You’ll find that there are still so many of these that it can difficult to narrow down even the B list.

Beautiful bas-relief sculptures and amazing metalwork frame the entrance to le Petit Palais

Beautiful bas-relief sculptures and amazing metalwork frame the entrance to le Petit Palais

Le Petit Palais (literally, the Little Palace) is one such site. My mom’s friend had recently been to Paris and she raved about how much she enjoyed this smaller, gorgeous art museum. It’s one of those places we wouldn’t have added to our itinerary if we hadn’t gotten this word-of-mouth recommendation.

But we spent a couple of highly enjoyable hours in this ornate mansion and definitely suggest putting it on your B list.

Here are some fun facts about the Petit Palais.

 

1. Le Petit Palais was built for the 1900 World Exhibition.

Like its big brother across the Avenue Winston Churchill, the Grand Palais, the structure was intended to stand the test of time, instead of the temporary buildings so often constructed for world’s fairs.

Both sit near another World Exhibition project to beautify the city, the bridge called le Pont Alexandre III. Designed by Charles Girault, the palace consists of four wings around a colonnade that borders a semicircular garden. It took over 20 years to complete.

Part of the intricate façade of the Petit Palais. (Duke and Wally have a soft spot for squirrels)

Part of the intricate façade of the Petit Palais. (Duke and Wally have a soft spot for squirrels)

2. Fair officials liked the plan because it dealt with what they viewed as an eyesore.

One of the leftover buildings from the 1855 World Fair, the Palais de l’Industrie, ran parallel to the Champs Élysées and blocked views of Les Invalides (where the tomb of Napoleon resides). So when it was suggested to demolish it and build two palaces that fit with the new development plans for Paris, officials green-lit the project.

La Vachalcade  by Fernand Pelez, 1896 

La Vachalcade by Fernand Pelez, 1896 

3. In 1902, it became an art museum.

The Petit Palais’ permanent collection of artwork spans from antiquity to 1920. In one room you may find a 19th century painting of a famous Parisian food market, while in another you’ll be looking at medieval illuminated manuscripts or ancient Greek pottery, Paris Perfect points out.

Porteurs de farine, scène parisienne  by Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse, 1885

Porteurs de farine, scène parisienne by Louis-Robert Carrier-Belleuse, 1885

Sometimes we enjoy going to a smaller museum, where you can see the entire collection in a couple of hours, as opposed to the overwhelming Louvre, for instance, where you could wander for over a week and still not see everything. 

An added bonus? The Petit Palais is free!

The museum is truly breathtaking, with art to be found every direction you look, including up

The museum is truly breathtaking, with art to be found every direction you look, including up

4. Le Petit Palais is famous for its murals.

The Petit Palais is officially known as the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris (the Paris Fine Arts Museum).

Albert Besnard was given the task of painting four decorative murals for the entrance hall. He named his works of art Matter, Thought, Formal Beauty and Mysticism and worked on them from 1903 to 1910.

Heads-up! Some of the artwork is found on the ceiling

Heads-up! Some of the artwork is found on the ceiling

Don’t forget to look up. Not all of the artwork hangs on the walls. Some of the most impressive pieces are part of the palace itself. The painted ceilings took from 1909 to 1924 to complete. The North Pavilion’s were painted by Ferdinand Humbert, while those in the South Pavilion are by Georges Picard.

There are two main galleries that also have murals. One shows Paris of the past, from the Battle of Lutetia (fought at the bequest of Caesar) to the French Revolution, while the other illustrates a more modern Paris.

Also keep an eye out for the 16 plaster busts set into niches. They’re of famous artists, including Eugène Delacroix.

You have to make sure you see Girault’s gorgeous lace-like iron staircase

You have to make sure you see Girault’s gorgeous lace-like iron staircase

5. The spiraling staircases are true works of art.

Make sure you explore the spiral staircases at Petit Palais. We found one in the back corner and were mesmerized by its graceful metallic curves. The designer, Girault, is credited with creating some of the finest wrought iron work ever. He also designed the golden gate at the entrance as well.

Wally wouldn’t mind living in a place like this

Wally wouldn’t mind living in a place like this

Now  this  is the kind of staircase you can make a grand entrance on!

Now this is the kind of staircase you can make a grand entrance on!

Duke and I were absolutely obsessed with the staircase. The banisters and balustrade consist of curlicues and the spiraling tendrils of plantlife. How the heck did Girault take a hard material like iron and make it look like delicate vines? You have to see this for yourself.

There’s a cute café in the central courtyard of the Petit Palais, along with a lush garden

There’s a cute café in the central courtyard of the Petit Palais, along with a lush garden

6. The courtyard garden is a gorgeous spot to have lunch or take a coffee break.

Our other favorite spot at the palace is le Jardin du Petit Palais, the enclosed garden café. Even though the building is on one of Paris’ major thoroughfares, you’d never know it. Lush plants and a curved row of columns draped in golden garlands provide cover in this secret spot in the central courtyard of the museum.

Grab a bite to eat or a drink (caffeinated or alcoholic) and soak in this peaceful oasis, with its reflecting pools, tropical foliage and stunning mosaic floors. What’s cool is that you’ll see the other side of the palace, where you enter, across the way, as if it’s an entirely different building. –Wally


Consider planning your trip with the TripHobo itinerary planner. Add in your airfare, hotel or homestay and the things you want to see each day — and it’ll even help plan your budget.


Wally attempts to blend in with the statue. Doesn’t look just like a nature goddess?

Wally attempts to blend in with the statue. Doesn’t look just like a nature goddess?

Le Petit Palais
Avenue Winston Churchill
75008 Paris, France

The Doors of Provence

A pictorial journey through les portes de Provence, accompanied by quotes about doors.

doorsofprovence1.jpg

During the week we spent based in Aix-en-Provence, France, we practically overdosed on adorable. I mean, those people are doing something right. The towns are quaint and filled with markets. You’ll pass through small squares with fountains in the middle.

doorsofprovence2.jpg

And then there are the doors. We couldn’t help but snap photos on every street we strolled along. Many of the doors are surprisingly narrow. Many have intricate stone archways with faces guarding the entrance. Many sported intricately carved panels. Some opened in the middle, like giant shutters. A few had somewhat intimidating knockers. And most were of a deep brown wood, though now and then you’d see one painted a blue as bright as the Provençal sky.

doorsofprovence3.jpg

Here are our favorite doors from Aix and its environs, paired with quotes about this architectural detail that never fails to captivate. Step right in. –Wally

There are so many doors to open. I am impatient to begin.
–Daniel Keyes, “Flowers for Algernon”
Doors are funny things.
Some lead to somewhere exciting and wonderful, while others lead to the mundane and ordinary. Some, because they are gaudy and ornate, usher us into the land of greed and money. But many look unassuming and plain, yet hidden behind their simplicity one can find love; warmth; a cozy fire; a home cooked meal and a beautiful family.
It’s these doors I search for in life and it’s these doors that I shall find.
–Anthony T. Hincks
I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.
–Elizabeth Taylor
Windows open out onto the universe around you, but doors will take you to where your imagination lies.
–Anthony T. Hincks
If you feel you have to open a particular door, open it, otherwise all your life that door will haunt your mind!
–Mehmet Murat İldan
A smile will open more doors than what a frown will.
–Anthony T.Hincks
If God had to build a door, it’s because we erected a wall.
–Craig D. Lounsbrough

Discover the Charms of La Ciotat

A little-known port in the South of France, where you can hike up to Parc du Mugel botanic gardens and see the Eden Théâtre, where the Lumière Brothers screened the first moving picture.

An on-the-fly decision brought us to La Ciotat, France

An on-the-fly decision brought us to La Ciotat, France

The plan was to take a day trip to Aubagne in the South of France. But because of the all-too-common and unpredictable rail strike, we were unable to take the train. So Wally, his parents and I decided we’d try out the bus. We bought tickets and boarded the 72 bus from Aix.

The picturesque port of La Ciotat

The picturesque port of La Ciotat

During the ride, Wally struck up a conversation with an adorable young woman with large expressive eyes and chestnut-colored hair tousled in a loose braid. She asked us in French where we were going, and when she heard that our plan was to hit Aubagne, she instead suggested La Ciotat, saying, “It’s super!” pronouncing the word “soo-pair.”

It was here that Auguste and Louis Lumière screened their movie, ‘Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station,’ which sent some viewers running from their seats in terror.
Many of the buildings of Provence are pastel-colored, with shuttered windows

Many of the buildings of Provence are pastel-colored, with shuttered windows

We decided to follow her advice; after all, she knows the region better than we did. And so we got off the bus early, to explore La Ciotat.

Duke on the beach at La Ciotat

Duke on the beach at La Ciotat

The charming seaside town was the birthplace of cinema and the setting for many of the pioneering Lumière brothers’ first moving pictures. The quaint old port is now filled with luxury yachts and fishing boats bobbing upon the gentle waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Yachts, sailboats and seagulls in a postcard-perfect setting

Yachts, sailboats and seagulls in a postcard-perfect setting

A delightful place to spend an afternoon

A delightful place to spend an afternoon

Fishing boats line the harbor at La Ciotat

Fishing boats line the harbor at La Ciotat

Apparently the town also holds a yearly festival in October to celebrate its miraculous immunity from the Great Plague of 1720. Nearby Marseille did not fare so well and lost about 50% of its population! Historians believe that the ancient fortified stone walls surrounding the hamlet acted as a barrier to the wave of destruction caused by the bubonic plague, helping the townsfolk of La Ciotat to avoid a terrible fate.

Église Notre-Dame de l'Assomption

Église Notre-Dame de l'Assomption

Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption

Once you arrive in La Ciotat, you have a choice of adventures. If you make your way from the port like we did, you’ll pass the town’s largest church, Our Lady of the Assumption, with its single belltower. Built at the start of the 17th century, it has a restrained Romanesque style façade. Pale rose-colored limestone used to construct the church came from the ancient quarries of La Couronne.

Unfortunately, we were unable to see inside, as the doors were locked.

Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption
25 Rue Adolphe Abeille

Eden Théâtre, where the first movie was screened

Eden Théâtre, where the first movie was screened

Eden Théâtre

Built in 1889 and facing the Mediterranean seafront, the landmark Eden Théâtre, with its butter-yellow façade, is the world’s oldest surviving public movie theater in operation.

It was here that Auguste and Louis Lumière screened their black-and-white silent movie, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, which shows a steam train pulling into a station. The scene certainly made quite an impression, sending some viewers running from their seats in terror as the image of an oncoming train hurtled towards them.

Eden Théâtre
25 Boulevard Georges Clémenceau

The gorgeous blue waters of the Mediterranean

The gorgeous blue waters of the Mediterranean

The botanic garden of Parc du Mugel is worth the hike uphill

The botanic garden of Parc du Mugel is worth the hike uphill

Parc du Mugel

Wally and I decided to check out the botanic garden of Parc du Mugel, while Shirley and Dave explored the small cobblestone-lined streets. The park is quite a hike but ended up being a highlight of our trip.

Since we weren’t completely sure where we were going, we stopped in at Au Poivre d’Ane, a bookstore, to ask directions to the park. A white cat named Dickens slept in the front window. The shopkeeper told us to follow the Avenue des Calanques until we reached the iron gates at the end and becomes Avenue du Mugel.

As we walked up the gradual incline of the road, we passed derelict port buildings covered in graffiti. A fine wire mesh, presumably to prevent erosion, covers the lower half of the cliffs like a hairnet keeping errant stones and soil in place.

When we reached the top, we were rewarded with the natural splendor of Parc du Mugel.

Graffiti decorates the walls along the thin slivers of rocky beaches

Graffiti decorates the walls along the thin slivers of rocky beaches

The Park’s History

In 1923, the land was purchased by Marseille coal merchant Louis Fouquet. A man of considerable wealth, Fouquet created a great arboretum, planting plane trees, cork oaks, chestnut trees, bamboos, mimosas and bougainvilleas.

The town eventually bought back the entire property, and in 1982, the nature preserve was opened to the public.

Wally went in the water. It was cold

Wally went in the water. It was cold

Located at the foot of a massive calanque, or seaside cliff, the 270-foot-high Bec de l’Aigle, Eagle’s Beak, shelters the site from the mistral, the powerful, cold dry wind that blows through the Rhône Valley to the Mediterranean coast. The Bec is composed of a conglomerate called poudingue or puddingstone. The “pudding” is made up of a fine-grained sediment composed of silt and limestone, flecked with small round pebbles the color of pomegranate seeds.

Elderly sunbathers with dark, leathery skin are a common sight in the South of France

Elderly sunbathers with dark, leathery skin are a common sight in the South of France

Wally and I followed a steep but shaded trail filled with chestnut trees, Aleppo pines and laurels before reaching the belvedere, a fancy name for a lookout point, to enjoy the panoramic view of the sun-dappled Mediterranean Sea. It was worth the effort.

Fishermen try to catch their dinner on the shores of La Ciotat

Fishermen try to catch their dinner on the shores of La Ciotat

The park has an impluvium irrigation system, which collects rainwater runoff for water-thirsty plants, and calades, retaining walls hidden by the lush greenery that act as ribs along the slope to hold back the earth in certain areas.

These lovingly arranged gardens contain wildflowers, cactuses, roses, aromatic and medicinal plants as well as a citrus fruit orchard.

Parc du Mugel
Calanque du Mugel

A pleasant stroll around the port 

A pleasant stroll around the port 

If you’re in the Aix or Marseille area and want to take an off-the-beaten path, follow our bus acquantaince’s advice and visit La Ciotat. The charming town, with its beautiful landscape and historic theater, deserves a visit for a few hours. –Duke

Windows with laundry hanging outside are another common sight in Provence

Windows with laundry hanging outside are another common sight in Provence

A Tour of the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur

Looking for things to do in Aix-en-Provence? Travel through time at this historic church.

The Cathédral Saint Sauveur is one of the highlights of Aix-en-Provence, France

The Cathédral Saint Sauveur is one of the highlights of Aix-en-Provence, France

Cathédrale Saint Sauveur
34 Place des Martyrs-de-la-Résistance
13100 Aix-en-Provence, France

Looking through the Gothic nave into what’s known as the choir

Looking through the Gothic nave into what’s known as the choir

Tucked amongst the pastel-colored 17th century mansions and narrow streets of the charming vielle ville, or old town, of Aix-en-Provence, France lies one of its oldest and most interesting monuments, the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur. (Try pronouncing it something like, “Seh So-Vurr.) Rising majestically, it occupies the site where the ancient forum of Roman Aquae Sextiae once stood.

During the French Revolution, the statues of the kings of France were decapitated.
Good things come to those who wait: Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century and went on into the 19th century

Good things come to those who wait: Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century and went on into the 19th century

A Brief History of Saint Sauveur

Located at a point along what was the Via Aurelia, the principal highway from the Iberian Peninsula to Asia Minor during the dominition of the Roman Empire, the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur evolved in fits and starts, beginning in the 5th century. Delays between the laying of its foundation and its completion due to wars, la peste (bubonic plague) and lack of financing bear witness to the amalgam of ecclesiastical architectural styles that make up the religious landmark.

Did Jesus really knock up Mary Magdalene, who gave birth to their kid…in the South of France?!

Did Jesus really knock up Mary Magdalene, who gave birth to their kid…in the South of France?!

Saint Maximinus and Mary Magdalene’s Voyage

According to Christian tradition, Saint Maximinus arrived in Provence from Bethany, a village near Jerusalem, accompanied by Mary Magdalene on a rudderless boat belonging to her brother, Lazarus. It was expected that they would perish at sea — however, the voyage brought them to the southern coast of France, landing in the city of Marseilles, where they achieved success in converting the French people to Christianity. In fact, Maximinus became the first Archbishop of Aix. He built a modest chapel here and dedicated it to Saint Sauveur, Christ the Savior.

There’s a popular theory (written about in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) that says Mary Magdalene was pregnant at the time of her journey — with the baby daddy being none other than Christ himself! The descendants of that child eventually married into the French royal family and started the Merovingian dynasty.

ANOTHER “DA VINCI CODE” CONNECTION: Saint-Sulpice and the Mystery of the Rose Line

Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century with the baptistery

Construction of Saint Sauveur began in the 5th century with the baptistery

The Baptistery Rotunda

The oldest part of Saint Sauveur is the baptistery, which was built at the beginning of the 5th century and predates the current cathedral by almost 700 years. As the town grew, the cathedral was renovated in the 16th century in the Romanesque style, evidence of the growing economic clout of the Catholic diocese.

This is the area off to the right when you enter the cathedral, and indeed, it has an ancient feel to it.

This area of Saint Sauveur is thought to have been built atop a temple to Apollo

This area of Saint Sauveur is thought to have been built atop a temple to Apollo

Allegedly, French historian Jean Scholastique Pitton uncovered an artifact, the orphaned leg of a statue, while excavating the site. He presumed this to belong to the sun god Apollo, and this became the origin of the Provençal myth that the church was built atop a pagan Roman temple dedicated to Apollo.

The eight sides of the baptismal font represent regeneration — you’ll see octagons all over this part of the church

The eight sides of the baptismal font represent regeneration — you’ll see octagons all over this part of the church

Eight slender columns of granite and green marble with Corinthian capitals surround the octagonal Merovingian baptismal basin. It was fed by the warm waters coming from the Roman baths. Its eight sides are a symbolic number of regeneration.

As the cathedral was enlarged over the centuries, it became a mishmash of three main architectural styles 

As the cathedral was enlarged over the centuries, it became a mishmash of three main architectural styles 

A Tale of Three Naves

The cathedral consists of three naves, compositionally connected to one another but nevertheless clearly distinguishable. The north is in the Baroque style, the south Romanesque, which served as the main nave prior to the construction of the central Gothic nave.

 

Romanesque Nave

At the beginning of the 12th century, the principal nave was constructed next to the baptistery in the Romanesque style and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The front of the nave was demolished during the 15th century and replaced with a new Gothic façade and bell tower.

The cloister, just beyond the baptistery and accessed through the Romanesque nave, was built next to the cathedral between the late 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century. It was reduced in size in the early 18th century to expand the west corridor. At the corners, pillars are decorated with bas-reliefs depicting the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

 

Gothic Nave

About 200 years later, further expansion occurred, and a second massive Gothic nave and apse were added. The wings of the transept were begun in 1285 and completed in 1316. Bay by bay, the Romanesque church was embellished and transformed in the Gothic style. This is the area you’ll see first if you walk straight into the cathedral.

There’s a real organ — and a fake one added for the sake of symmetry

There’s a real organ — and a fake one added for the sake of symmetry

Baroque Nave

Just to the left of the Gothic nave as you enter the church, you’ll come to the small Baroque nave. To either side are green and gold organ cases in the Louis XV style, built by Jean-Esprit Isnard. The instrumental part by De Ducroquet dates from 1855. Both are listed historical monuments. An identical but false organ chest was built on the opposite side — just for the sake of symmetry.

Three saints can be found in the Baroque nave, including Marguerite of Antioch, off to the right, with an unusual-looking dragon

Three saints can be found in the Baroque nave, including Marguerite of Antioch, off to the right, with an unusual-looking dragon

A fascinating stone altarpiece commissioned by the Aygosi family, originally installed in the church of the Carmelites in Aix, can be seen in the Baroque aisle. Carved from stone by Audinet Stephani and installed in 1823, it depicts a variety of saints: Marcel, Anne with the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus and Marguerite of Antioch emerging from the shoulders of a dragon who had swallowed her whole.

Stained glass saints in Saint Sauveur

Stained glass saints in Saint Sauveur

Apse and Artwork

The cathedral underwent extensive renovation in the 19th century. The nave was redecorated with painted and sculpted neo-Gothic elements added between 1857 and 1862.

In the Gothic nave, you’ll find a modern cathedra, a throne for the bishop. We think it looks more like something he’d take a dump on

In the Gothic nave, you’ll find a modern cathedra, a throne for the bishop. We think it looks more like something he’d take a dump on

The choir gallery of the Gothic nave contains the high altar with a pair of carved giltwood angels, a modern sculptural cathedra, or bishop’s throne, which looks a bit like a gray tankless toilet backed by three wavy, glittering bronze panels symbolic of the Holy Trinity. Nineteenth century stained glass windows feature the coats of arms of high-ranking church clergy.

Check to see if the  Triptych of the Burning Bush , by Nicolas Froment, will be on display when you visit

Check to see if the Triptych of the Burning Bush, by Nicolas Froment, will be on display when you visit

The cathedral’s most famous work is the Triptych of the Burning Bush by Nicolas Froment. Commissioned by King René for his funerary chapel in the church of Les Grands-Carmes, it is considered one of the most beautiful 15th century paintings in Europe. Painted in 1475 and 1476, it has resided in the Cathédrale Saint Sauveur since the 19th century. Due to its fragility, they only open the case on specific days; sadly, ours was not one of those days.

Look for the Roman prophetesses lining the arch of the main entrance, among other sculptures

Look for the Roman prophetesses lining the arch of the main entrance, among other sculptures

Western Façade

With the completion of the nave, attention was drawn to the western façade, which was demolished and replaced in the Gothic style. Figures representing the Apostles flank the cathedral doors. Above the portal are the figures of 12 sibyls, pagan fortune tellers from antiquity, surrounded by foliage, fruit and flowers.

Holy Savior! They built a church for you!

Holy Savior! They built a church for you!

During the French Revolution, the statues on the façade, believed to depict the kings of France, were decapitated, and the heads were lost. The current ones are replicas.

Careful, Saint Michael! I know you’re busy killing the Devil, but we don’t want you falling off the roof!

Careful, Saint Michael! I know you’re busy killing the Devil, but we don’t want you falling off the roof!

The centerpiece of the façade is a statue of the Archangel Saint Michael vanquishing Satan with a cross, made in 1507 by sculptor Jean Paumier.

 

If you’re in Aix-en-Provence, pull yourself away from the delightful open-air markets to spend an hour or so exploring the choose-your-own-architectural-adventure of the Cathédral Saint Sauveur. It’s a bit like traveling through time, as you make your way from the ancient baptistery to the modern bishop’s throne. –Duke

The Secrets of Saint-Sulpice

Dan Brown got some details wrong in The Da Vinci Code, but this large church is still worth a visit — especially if you’re planning to hit the Luxembourg Gardens.

If you’re in Saint-Germain-des-Près or visiting the Luxembourg Gardens, be sure to stop by Saint-Sulpice Church

If you’re in Saint-Germain-des-Près or visiting the Luxembourg Gardens, be sure to stop by Saint-Sulpice Church

Église Saint-Sulpice
12 Place Saint-Sulpice
75005 Paris, France

It might be the second-biggest church in Paris, but Saint-Sulpice isn’t a major tourist attraction — now that  Da Vinci Code  fever has died down

It might be the second-biggest church in Paris, but Saint-Sulpice isn’t a major tourist attraction — now that Da Vinci Code fever has died down

  • Saint-Sulpice is the second-largest church in Paris, behind Notre-Dame.
  • It’s located in the 6th arrondissement, in the fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Près district.
  • The Catholic church is dedicated to Saint Sulpicius the Pious, a 7th century bishop of Bourges, who spoke out against the Merovingian kings.
  • Construction of the church ran from 1646 to 1745, dragging out for a century mostly due to inconsistent funding. It’s done in a muted Baroque style.
  • Saint-Sulpice was where the S&M enthusiast the Marquis de Sade and the poet Charles Baudelaire were baptized, and it hosted the wedding of author Victor Hugo.
  • It boasts iconic mismatched towers.
  • The church is home to one of the most magnificent organs in the world.
  • It’s known as the Cathedral of the Rive Gauche, or Left Bank.
  • Saint-Sulpice became even more famous by being featured in a scene in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code involving its gnomon, an astronomical instrument erroneously depicted as the site of the Rose Line.
  • How do you pronounce Saint-Sulpice? Try saying “Seh Sool-Peez.”
The fountain was built by Louis Visconti in the mid-1800s

The fountain was built by Louis Visconti in the mid-1800s

We had spent the morning wandering the Luxembourg Gardens. Our friends Kent and Michael, who live in Paris, suggested we make the short walk to see l’Église Saint-Sulpice. We’re glad we did.

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown calls the gnomon the Paris Meridian, or the Rose Line — but apparently that’s pure fiction.
Wally never misses a chance to photograph depictions of lions

Wally never misses a chance to photograph depictions of lions

Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

A block from the gardens, we entered a small square with a fountain dominating the space. It’s quite an impressive work, with lions lying down but roaring grumpily, just like our cat Caribou. The Fontaine Saint-Sulpice was constructed between 1843 and 1848 by the architect Louis Visconti, who also designed Napoleon’s tomb.

The impressive fountain in front of Saint-Sulpice, with one of its mismatched towers in the background

The impressive fountain in front of Saint-Sulpice, with one of its mismatched towers in the background

Wally, far right, and his friends at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

Wally, far right, and his friends at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

At the top, in a rectangular structure built of arches, four assumably famous dudes sit majestically, starting out in each of the cardinal directions. Apparently, they were all created by different sculptors and represent religious figures who were known for having the gift of gab.

st-supliceinterior.JPG

Église Saint-Sulpice

The Church of Saint-Sulpice now stands where a small Romanesque church once catered to the neighborhood, long before the Saint-Germain-des-Près district was home to the existentialists (Sartre and the gang) or the posh hot spot it is today.

Thinking of changing careers? Pray to Saint Sulpicius, to whom the church is dedicated; he’s the patron saint of delayed vocations. ( The Martyrdom of Saint Sulpicius , Eugene Delacroix, circa 1847)

Thinking of changing careers? Pray to Saint Sulpicius, to whom the church is dedicated; he’s the patron saint of delayed vocations. (The Martyrdom of Saint Sulpicius, Eugene Delacroix, circa 1847)

Like many large churches, it took a long time to build — about a century — mainly due to touch-and-go funding, with various architects contributing different designs along the way. Construction began in 1646 but stalled from 1678 to 1719. It then resumed, mostly wrapping up by 1745.

A funerary niche at Saint-Sulpice

A funerary niche at Saint-Sulpice

Some of the statues at the church are simply heavenly

Some of the statues at the church are simply heavenly

Nicknamed the Cathedral of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), Saint-Sulpice is one of the largest churches in Paris, second only to Notre-Dame. Its design is actually quite plain for the typically frilly and ornate Baroque style. You’ll also notice that it’s slightly asymmetrical, as the south tower was never finished. Construction was interrupted by the French Revolution and never completed. Stacks of open colonnades line the exterior, evoking the Roman Colosseum.

Light a candle and say a prayer, even if you’re not religious — it certainly can’t hurt, right?

Light a candle and say a prayer, even if you’re not religious — it certainly can’t hurt, right?

Saint-Sulpice Church is renowned for its massive organ, considered one of the finest (and largest) in the world. It dates back to 1781 and was the highlight of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s career. Because of this impressive instrument, concerts are frequently held in the church.

A down and out man in front of the church

A down and out man in front of the church

A wedding was taking place at the far front of the church. We caught the bride and her father as they headed up there

A wedding was taking place at the far front of the church. We caught the bride and her father as they headed up there

Nowhere near as popular as other churches, like Notre-Dame or Sacré-Cœur, this feels very much like a neighborhood place of worship, and chances are you’ll be able to wander it without many other tourists around. When we visited, there was a small wedding going on at the very front of the church, and we watched the bride and her father weave their way through the space, heading up the aisle.

There aren’t any pews at Saint-Sulpice…

There aren’t any pews at Saint-Sulpice…

…just row after row of small wooden chairs

…just row after row of small wooden chairs

One thing that particularly struck us is the lack of pews — instead, there are rows upon rows of small wooden chairs with woven seats.

 

The Da Vinci Code Connection

There it is.
Embedded in the gray granite floor, a thin polished strip of brass glistened in the stone … a golden line slanting across the church’s floor. The line bore graduated markings, like a ruler. It was a gnomon, Silas had been told, a pagan astronomical device like a sundial. Tourists, scientists, historians, and pagans from around the world came to Saint‑Sulpice to gaze upon this famous line.
The Rose Line.
…. It was an ancient sundial of sorts, a vestige of the pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot. The sun’s rays, shining through the oculus on the south wall, moved farther down the line every day, indicating the passage of time, from solstice to solstice.
–“The Da Vinci Code,” Chapter 22, Dan Brown
Look for the gnomon, which leads to an obelisk against one wall. This line marks the solstices and equinoxes

Look for the gnomon, which leads to an obelisk against one wall. This line marks the solstices and equinoxes

Saint-Sulpice has another claim to fame: It’s featured in Dan Brown’s fun puzzle romp The Da Vinci Code — both the book, quoted above, and the crappy movie version.

The narrow brass strip is used as a clue by Silas, the murderous monk, in his quest for the Holy Grail. One end is found near the middle of the nave on the right, by a stone statue with a Latin inscription. From there, it runs north, leading to an obelisk next to a statue of Saint Peter.

This is the famous gnomon — technically, the projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow. In this case, it’s a line that’s used as an astronomical instrument from the 1700s to determine the suspiciously pagan date of Easter each year (the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox — it doesn’t get any more pagan than that!). The sun’s rays enter the church through a missing panel in the south transept’s stained glass window and fall upon the line at various points throughout the year. On the spring and autumn equinoxes the sun hits a bronze table, and on the winter solstice, it illuminates the obelisk.

Brown calls this line the Paris Meridian, or the Rose Line, but apparently that’s pure fiction: Zero longitude of the meridian line is actually in Parc Montsouris, according to Travel France Online.

Because of the influx of Da Vinci Code aficionados (visitations increased 25% after the publication of the novel, apparently), Saint-Sulpice posted the following note in English:

Well, The Da Vinci Code version makes a good story. But even the facts are not without interest, in providing an example of the cooperation of science and religion. It would not be unreasonable to expect the church was built on a pagan temple; this was a regular practice. However, it seems unlikely that the sundial, especially if known to be pagan, would have been preserved or reconstructed in the new church building.

Despite the fact that Brown manipulated the facts a bit to make a more compelling story, Saint-Sulpice is definitely worth a wander, especially when paired with the Luxembourg Gardens. –Wally

La Cigale: Why the Cicada Became the Symbol of Provence

A Jean de la Fontaine fable helped the noisome cicada bug burrow its way into Provençal hearts.

The noisy (and let’s face it, rather ugly) bug the cicada became the chosen motif to represent the French region of Provence

The noisy (and let’s face it, rather ugly) bug the cicada became the chosen motif to represent the French region of Provence

Aix-en-Provence, France has all the trappings of a charming Provençal town, in particular its farmers markets filled with fresh produce, assorted cheeses, lavender sachets and freshly cut sunflowers. What we didn’t expect to find depicted everywhere was cicadas. There were brightly glazed ceramic ones, table linens with their likeness and pastel-colored cicada-shaped soaps. You can imagine our surprise and delight, when Wally and I learned that the people of Provence chose cicadas (which I call “ree-ree bugs” because of the sound they make) as their honorary symbol. We had to discover how this came about.

When summer arrives in Provence, cicadas, or cigales as they are referred to in French, dramatically announce their return, filling the air with their distinctive melody.

According to Provençal folklore, the cicada was sent by God to rouse peasants from their afternoon siestas to prevent them from becoming too lazy.

The plan backfired.

Cicadas have been featured in literature since ancient times. Greek poets were compelled to write odes to them. To them, cicadas symbolized death and rebirth, due to the bugs’ mysterious life cycle. Cicadas spend their nymph stage underground, and classical poets likely observed species that buried themselves for two to five years before emerging from the earth.

Only the male cicada “sings,” prompting the Ancient Greek poet Xenophon to quip: “Blessed are the cicadas, for they have voiceless wives.”

Only the male cicada “sings,” prompting the Ancient Greek poet Xenophon to quip: “Blessed are the cicadas, for they have voiceless wives.”

When the air reaches the right temperature — 77ºF — masses of male cicadas will stridently whine or serenade female cicadas; the females do not sing. For those more poetically inclined, each sings in unison by rapidly vibrating their tymbal, a thin membrane with thickened ribs located on each side of its abdomen. Because the abdomen is mostly hollow, it acts as a resonance chamber that amplifies the sound and broadcasts up to mile away. The din is the loudest of all insect-produced sounds.

In  Phaedrus , Plato muses that cicadas were once men who became so enraptured by music, they forgot to eat and drink, and their bodies wasted away

In Phaedrus, Plato muses that cicadas were once men who became so enraptured by music, they forgot to eat and drink, and their bodies wasted away

According to Provençal folklore, the cicada was sent by God to rouse peasants from their afternoon siestas on hot summer days and prevent them from becoming too lazy. The plan backfired: Instead of being disturbed by the cicada, the peasants found the sound of their buzzing relaxing, which in turn lulled them to sleep.

There is a Provençal expression: Il ne fait pas bon de travailler quand la cigale chante, or “It’s not good to work when the cicada is singing.”

Jean de la Fontaine’s story “The Cicada and the Ant” is based on one of Aesop’s famous fables

Jean de la Fontaine’s story “The Cicada and the Ant” is based on one of Aesop’s famous fables

Jean de la Fontaine wrote the fable “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (“The Cicada and the Ant”) in 1668, an interpretation inspired by Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” In the story, the cicada passes the glorious days of summer consumed in song, while the industrious ant forages and stores food for the winter to come.

The ant works industriously all summer long, while the cicada lazes about singing. Guess who’s caught off-guard when winter arrives?

The ant works industriously all summer long, while the cicada lazes about singing. Guess who’s caught off-guard when winter arrives?

In 1854, together with six other local writers, Frédéric Mistral formed the Félibrige, a literary society to preserve the Provençal language and customs of Southern France. He coined the phrase, “Lou soulei mi fa canta,” Provençal for “the sun makes me sing,” usually accompanied by an illustration of a cicada.

A ceramicist from the Aubagne town of Provence, Louis Sicard, was asked by a wealthy tile manufacturer in 1895 to come up with a small keepsake gift symbolizing Provence for the man to give to his business clients. Inspired by the poets of the Félibrige, Sicard designed and created a paperweight with a cicada sitting on an olive branch bearing Mistral's epigram “Lou soulei mi fa canta,” earning himself the nickname “the Father of the Cicadas.”

If you startle a cicada, it might emit a spray of piss, prompting Provençal peasants of the past to thread the insects on a string, hang them up to dry and then boil their bodies into a tisane to cure urinary tract ailments

If you startle a cicada, it might emit a spray of piss, prompting Provençal peasants of the past to thread the insects on a string, hang them up to dry and then boil their bodies into a tisane to cure urinary tract ailments

The people of Provence adopted the noisy critters as their mascot, and the motif made its way into everything from regional fabrics to pottery displayed proudly outside Provençal homes. Like horseshoes or four leaf clovers, they’re regarded as good luck charms, and seem to burrow their way into many a tourist’s suitcase. In fact, we purchased a wrought-iron cicada trivet at the Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market and a bunch of perfumed ceramic cicadas at the Aix tourist center as souvenirs and gifts. –Duke

Where to Eat and Shop in Cassis

Spend a charming day wandering this pretty Provence port — and pick up a bottle of crème de cassis and marc while you’re at it.

Book a tour of the calanques, then spend the afternoon in lovely Cassis

Book a tour of the calanques, then spend the afternoon in lovely Cassis

Built on a hillside, the 17-century medieval town of Cassis, in the South of France, is clustered around a harbor shaped like a crescent (or, one might say croissant). Many of the buildings have beautifully weathered shutters and the town’s warren of charming narrow streets are lined with cafés, restaurants, shops and residences easily accessible by foot, or à pied as the French say.

The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Port of Cassis — one of the best-kept secrets in the South of France

The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Port of Cassis — one of the best-kept secrets in the South of France

C’est la vie, as they say — life follows a different schedule in Provence and even more so in a seaside town.
With such a picturesque port and beautiful weather, you’ll want to dine al fresco

With such a picturesque port and beautiful weather, you’ll want to dine al fresco

Time for Lunch

After our afternoon excursion on the Mediterranean touring the white cliffsides known as calanques, the Shirl, Dave, Wally and I had worked up an appetite and decided to have lunch on the seaside terrace of the Marco Polo Restaurant.

Watch the boats come and go in the harbor as you wander this adorable ville

Watch the boats come and go in the harbor as you wander this adorable ville

What appeared to be a regular diner was enjoying his meal near the entrance to the restaurant. When he finished, he lit a cigar. A waitress drizzled water across his lap and told him to put it out. When he refused, she threatened to pour a full glass over his head — and he finally acquiesced.
Each of us ordered the Marco Polo salad. The mixed greens included shredded chicken, Granny Smith apple slices, Belgian endives, cherry tomatoes, kernels of corn and a light mustard dressing. We all enjoyed them — a nice light break from all the fromage and cured saucissons.

Food, drink and shopping in a pretty Provençal port town

Food, drink and shopping in a pretty Provençal port town

Wally and I also ordered Kir Royales, champagne with the addition of the syrupy blackcurrant apéritif liqueur crème de cassis.

As an interesting aside, the Provençal region is known for rosé and Sauvignon Blanc — not crème de cassis, which is a specialty of the Burgundy region.

 

Le Marco Polo
4, place Mirabeau


This chien has the right idea — Cassis has a laidback vibe

This chien has the right idea — Cassis has a laidback vibe

Time to Shop

Should you decide to wander the streets of Cassis after lunch (and you really should), there are plenty of shops and boutiques to whet your appetite, offering local wares — but you may find many of them closed. Shops close up to three hours for lunch between 12 to 3 p.m.

The streets are narrow, rounded and lined with brightly colored buildings — some of which are striped!

The streets are narrow, rounded and lined with brightly colored buildings — some of which are striped!

One shop in particular that piqued our interest, the Cassis-Provence shop, allegedly resumed business at 2 p.m., but didn’t unlock its doors until 2:45 p.m. (We know cuz we kept checking back, we were so eager to get inside.) C’est la vie, as they say — life follows a different schedule in Provence and even more so in a seaside town.

Climbing flowers and bright colors are at the heart of Cassis’ appeal

Climbing flowers and bright colors are at the heart of Cassis’ appeal

The shop proprietor was wearing a voluminous pink cotton candy cloud of a dress which made her look like doll, earning her Wally’s fitting nickname Madame Poupée.

A Cassis courtyard

A Cassis courtyard

We purchased the following from this well-stocked shop, which featured wines, aperitifs and olive oil:

Wally’s mère became obsessed with this blue door — it represented everything she loves about Provence

Wally’s mère became obsessed with this blue door — it represented everything she loves about Provence

  • Margier extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlaban marc (a digestif Mme Poupée told us is a local specialty and drunk after every meal)
  • Crème de cassis
  • Château de Fontcreuse rosé
  • La Cagole (une bière blanche, or white beer, which Wally and I realized is our favorite type of beer)

Cassis Provence
9, rue Brémond


It’s tough to take a bad picture of the narrow rainbow-hued shops and apartments with boats out front

It’s tough to take a bad picture of the narrow rainbow-hued shops and apartments with boats out front

Cassis remains a friendly, unspoiled spot on the Mediterranean coast, where you can easily spend a relaxing sun-soaked afternoon enjoying the picturesque landscape and tasty food in an enchanting Provençal village. –Duke

The Gorgeous Calanques of Cassis

Calanque Port-Miou, Calanque Port-Pin and Calanque d’En-Vau: The French Riviera limestone cliffs provide a picturesque day trip if you’re in Provence.

The Port of Cassis on the French Riviera, with its pretty backdrop of the limestone cliffs called calanques

The Port of Cassis on the French Riviera, with its pretty backdrop of the limestone cliffs called calanques

It may be difficult to imagine taking time away from the idyllic town of Aix-en-Provence, France. However, not far from its leafy boulevards and gurgling fountains, the laidback coastal fishing village of Cassis, located between Marseilles and Bandol, makes for an ideal day trip.

Wally’s mom, affectionately referred to as “The Shirl” had brought and read about the Calanques of Cassis, white limestone cliffs at the water’s edge, in Rick Steves’ Provence & The French Riviera travel guide. So I suppose, in a way, we have Mr. Steves to thank for our excursion.

Limestone from the calanques of Cassis was used to build the Suez Canal as well as the base of the Statue of Liberty.
calanques1

How to Get There

The four of us set off for Cassis and took the train from the Aix-en-Provence TGV railway station to Marseille. At the Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles, we purchased tickets to the Gare de Toulon train station, about 15.5 miles southeast of Marseille.

Once in Toulon, we boarded a bus that twisted and wound its way down a steep hillside until we arrived at the Port of Cassis.

Wally’s dad, Duke, Wally and the infamous Shirl on their boat excursion to see the calanques

Wally’s dad, Duke, Wally and the infamous Shirl on their boat excursion to see the calanques

The Calanques

Chartered boat tours are available for different durations. You can visit the first three in a 45-minute trip, or go as far as all nine in one and a half hours.

We opted for the 45 minute excursion, which included Port-Miou, Port-Pin and d’En-Vau.

The name of our boat was Le Calendal, a small vessel that holds a maximum of 12 people.

On our voyage, we met and struck up a conversation with a charming au pair from Düsseldorf, Germany named Alexandra.

Wally with his new acquaintance, a German au pair

Wally with his new acquaintance, a German au pair

As our boat departed the harbor, our captain, Didier Crespi, pointed out the 14th-century fortress, Château de Cassis, built atop a cliff that juts out into the Mediterranean. Converted into a luxury hotel, the grounds are not open to the public, but should you wish to see them, you can book a junior suite for $350, or opt for the Chloe Suite, with a private terrace overlooking the azure waters of the Cote D'Azur for $690.

We passed the remains of a ruined quarry building on Pointe Cacau near the Calanque of Port-Miou.

The struggle of nature: Water wears away at the cliffs while plant life somehow finds a way to take hold

The struggle of nature: Water wears away at the cliffs while plant life somehow finds a way to take hold

The craggy limestone formations are dotted with pine and juniper trees that have taken root and grow in minimal soil amongst the cracks and crevices.

The remains of a limestone quarry, a popular building material and primary export for the town

The remains of a limestone quarry, a popular building material and primary export for the town

Captain Crespi told us that white limestone was the primary export of Cassis and provided the natural building material used to construct quays in major port cities from Alexandria to Algiers, as well as the channel walls of the Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. This same stone was even used to create the base for the Statue of Liberty.

You can kayak, hike to a hidden beach, risk your life rock-climbing — or you can just take it all in on a boat excursion

You can kayak, hike to a hidden beach, risk your life rock-climbing — or you can just take it all in on a boat excursion

Le Capitaine dropped anchor in the sheltered crystalline inlet of the Calanque d’En Vau. The sea was a brilliant blue and shimmered like liquid glass. A school of silver-skinned fish paused at the side of our boat as if they were accustomed to our captain’s comings and goings. He threw them some pieces of bread, which they excitedly nibbled at.

On our return to the harbor, we passed a restaurant perched atop the calanques that makes pastis, an anise-flavored spirit and aperitif.

From the water, we could see people relaxing on small private beaches (some of them nude), fishing and hiking. We even saw a rock climber scaling the face of a cliff while we moored.

The landscape was stunning and we all enjoyed our sunny afternoon on the water. –Duke

21 Eiffel Tower Facts

The true designer (hint: It wasn’t Gustave Eiffel!), Nazi occupation, the sculpture in the Champ de Mars and other trivia about la Tour Eiffel you never knew.

The Eiffel Tower is a symbol of Paris — but it has a fascinating history most people aren’t familiar with

A large part of the romance of Paris for me is that much of its historic skyline remains intact. It stretches out before you, its streets filled with light gray and cream-colored buildings, all of which are no more than five or six stories tall (with the exception of Montparnasse Tower, largely considered an eyesore by many Parisians).

Guy de Maupassant so abhorred the Eiffel Tower, he said he ate lunch every day in the restaurant at its base — ’cause it was the only place in Paris where he didn’t have to look at it.

Wally got tired of walking, so he made Duke give him a piggyback ride

One structure draws your eyes in the heart of the city: la Tour Eiffel, as the French call it. It has become the ultimate representation of the City of Light. The Eiffel Tower is at once sturdy, being made of steel, yet delicate in its design.

Everyone, whether they’ve had the pleasure of visiting Paris or not, is familiar with the city’s most iconic structure. But how much do you really know about the Eiffel Tower?

 

Wally jumps for joy at la Tour Eiffel

1. It reigned as the tallest manmade structure in the world — for a while, at least.

Completed in 1889, the Eiffel Tower, held that title for 41 years, standing 984 feet tall, until the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) in New York City beat it out in 1930.

 

2. It’s a long climb to the top.

You can trek up all 1,665 steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but there is an elevator.

 

3. It literally grows in the sunlight.

Unlike George on Seinfeld’s penis in cold water, the Eiffel Tower doesn’t shrink when temps drop — but because of thermal expansion, it stretches 6 inches taller on warm days.

 

The Eiffel Tower was built for a World’s Fair and has become one of the most-visited monuments on the planet

4. The tourism hotspot is super popular.

Seven or so million people a year visit the Eiffel Tower — it’s the most-visited, for-pay monument in the world.

 

5. The Eiffel Tower is a marvel of modern architecture.

Construction took two years, two months and five days — 180 years fewer than Notre Dame!

 

6. Paris almost missed out on housing the icon.

The project was first pitched to Barcelona, Spain, but the plan was rejected. The city was worried it’d be considered an unwieldy eyesore. It seems a bit odd for a place that took a risk with Antoni Gaudí and his colorful and strange aesthetic, including the beautiful and bizarre La Sagrada Familia church.

 

7. Turns out the man whose name it bears didn’t really design it.

It’s actually the work of one of Gustave Eiffel's employees: an engineer named Maurice Koechlin. Poor Maurice gets no respect.

 

The stages of the Eiffel Tower’s construction

8. Construction was intense.

It took 300 workers, over 18,000 pieces of wrought iron and 2.5 million rivets to create the impressive structure.

 

The Eiffel Tower served as a dramatic entrance to the 1889 Exposition Universelle

9. The Eiffel Tower was the star of the show at the 1889 World’s Fair.

The tower was built to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution for the Exposition Universelle. Paris wanted a dramatic entrance to the fairgrounds, reviewing more than 100 submissions before picking Eiffel and Company’s design.

 

Gustave Eiffel’s career had its ups and downs — and he didn’t even come up with the design for his namesake tower

10. Eiffel had a major misstep earlier in his career.

The French tried to build that canal in Panama, but it was a disastrous failure, and Eiffel’s reputation suffered.

 

11. A choice job on an American landmark redeemed Eiffel.

The architect had designed the skeletal support structure of the Statue of Liberty, which helped him score the World’s Fair commission.

 

12. The Eiffel Tower wasn’t supposed to stick around.

It was originally only intended to remain for 20 years before being dismantled. But its use as a giant antenna saved it — in part thanks to the fact that it jammed German wireless radio communications, hindering the Nazi advance at the First Battle of the Marne. The Allies were victorious, and the tower got to remain standing.

 

Wally and his mommy sure are glad the Eiffel Tower stuck around 

13. The now legendary icon didn’t go over very well at first.

Three hundred Parisian luminaries protested the tower when it was built. They ran the following manifesto in the Le Temps newspaper on Valentine’s Day in 1887: “We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate lovers of the beauty, until now intact, of Paris, hereby protest with all our might, with all our indignation, in the name of French taste gone unrecognized, in the name of French art and history under threat, against the construction, in the very heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.” The world has come around since then.

 

14. A famous writer sure was snooty about it.

Guy de Maupassant, author of the short story “The Necklace,” so abhorred the Eiffel Tower, he said he ate lunch every day in Le Jules Verne restaurant at its base — ’cause it was the only place in Paris where he didn’t have to look at it.

 

15. It housed the coolest hangout spot in the city.

Eiffel kept a small apartment on the third floor, 1,000 feet up, where he liked to entertain friends. It contained a grand piano and cutting-edge lab equipment, which surely impressed Thomas Edison when he visited. It’s now open to the public, complete with life-size mannequins of Eiffel and his guests.

 

14. A famous conman “sold” the Eiffel Tower — not once but twice.

In the 1920s, Victor Lustig, a con artist extraordinaire, convinced two different investors that the tower was going to be sold for scrap metal — scoring $70,000 off of one of his victims.

 

15. The Eiffel Tower was once “the world’s largest billboard.”

From 1925 to 1936, the tower was commercialized, serving as a giant advertisement for a car company.  A quarter of a million colored bulbs on three sides of the steeple illuminated to spell out Citroën in 100-foot-tall letters. It was so bright — visible for nearly 20 miles —  that Charles Lindbergh said he used it as a beacon when he landed in Paris on his 1927 solo transatlantic flight.

 

Hitler and the Nazis played a part in the history of the Eiffel Tower

16. The Eiffel Tower once sported a swastika.

When Germany occupied Paris during World War II, the tower was closed to the public. The French cut the elevator cables so Adolf Hitler and his minions would have to climb the stairs if they wanted to go up it. Nazi soldiers trudged up all those stairs and tried putting a huge swastika flag at the top, but it quickly blew away. They ended up using a smaller one.

 

17. Hitler tried to destroy the Eiffel Tower.

As the Allied forces approached Paris in 1944, Hitler ordered Dietrich van Choltitz, the military governor of the city, to demolish the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully, van Choltitz thought Hitler had gone mad and refused.

 

18. It takes a lot of paint to coat it — and it hasn’t always been the same color.

They repaint the tower every seven years or so with 66 tons of paint. That’s as much as 10 elephants weigh. The Eiffel Tower’s shade has shifted from time to time, including colors described as red-brown, yellow-ochre and chestnut brown. The reason it’s repainted is so the metal doesn’t oxidize and turn green, like the Eiffel Tower’s sister, Lady Liberty.

 

19. A French president once had a terrible and destructive idea about the tower.

In 1960 Charles de Gaulle thought it’d be cool to temporarily dismantle the tower and send it off to Montreal, Canada for Expo 67. The plan was rejected, thank Dieu.

 

20. The tower shares a nickname with Margaret Thatcher.

Both were called the Iron Lady (La Dame de Fer, in French).

 

Uh oh! We didn’t get France’s permission to run this photo of the Eiffel Tower at night

21. You supposedly can’t publish photos of the lit tower without permission from France.

The Eiffel Tower’s likeness is in the public domain, but in 1989, a French court ruled that lighting displays on the tower are an “original visual creation” protected by copyright. Just be aware that when you post those Instagram and Facebook photos, you’re breaking the law, you rebel.

 

The art installation by Clara Halter and Jean-Michel Wilmotte is worth exploring while you’re at the Eiffel Tower

War and Peace: Le Mur Pour la Paix in the Champ de Mars

Bonus: There’s a kickass art installation nearby.

Behind the Eiffel Tower is a large green space called the Champ de Mars (Mars Field). At the end of it, in Place Joffre, is the Mur Pour la Paix (the Peace Wall) — a fittingly stark contrast to a field named for the Roman god of war. This installation by the artist Clara Halter and the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte is worth visiting. It wasn’t crowded at all when we were there — it seems as if everyone tends to stay in the immediate Eiffel Tower area and not explore the environs. They’re missing out.

Wally and Duke at la Mur Pour la Paix, the Peace Wall, with the Eiffel Tower visible through it

On the glass wall, the word “peace” is written in 32 different languages. It’s supposedly inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Israel. We couldn’t tell if the shattered glass was part of the exhibit or not.

Wally tries to blend into the art exhibit at the end of the Champ de Mars

The cool art at the Mur de la Paix sure made Duke happy

There’s also a series of columns off to the side that’s fun to wander through.

The art piece provides very cool perspectives of the tower and makes for some great photo opps. Like I.M. Pei’s pyramid in front of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower itself, not every Parisian is sold on the sculpture. They’ll come around, though; they always do. –Wally

Sources: Factslides, History, Reader’s Digest,

Rosa Bonheur, a Friendly Watering Hole in Parc des Buttes Chaumont

One of our favorite bars in Paris, France goes from family-friendly to gay dance party in the course of a day. Plus: the recipe for its signature cocktail!

The charming Rosa Bonheur bar at Buttes Chaumont in Paris, France

The charming Rosa Bonheur bar at Buttes Chaumont in Paris, France

After exploring the hilly parkscape of Buttes Chaumont, our friend and Parisian resident Kent, Wally and I arrived at the “Log Cabin,” which is the congenial and charming wood-beamed pavilion Rosa Bonheur.

The artist Rosa Bonheur has a delightful bar named for her in Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris

The artist Rosa Bonheur has a delightful bar named for her in Parc des Buttes Chaumont in Paris

The bar was named after Rosa Bonheur, a successful 19th century animalière (painter of animals) known for her artistic realism. Beatrix Potter she was not: Bonheur was a nonconformist and a celebrated feminist who earned a living as an artist, managed her own property, wore trousers, hunted and smoked.

Bonheur painted lifelike depictions of animals

Bonheur painted lifelike depictions of animals

Lions and horses were among Bonheur’s favorite subjects

Lions and horses were among Bonheur’s favorite subjects

Insider’s Tip: If you want to visit Rosa Bonheur, arrive before 4 p.m., as a fence is put up then and you will have to wait in line to enter.
Later in her life, Bonheur took to wearing trousers and became a feminist icon

Later in her life, Bonheur took to wearing trousers and became a feminist icon

Bonheur bought an estate near the Forest of Fontainebleau and settled there with her lifelong companion, Nathalie Micas (and, after Micas’ death, American painter Anna Klumpke), and her menagerie of animals. She died in 1899 at the age of 77.

 

We grab a bite to eat at Rosa Bonheur — before it turns into a gay dance club

We grab a bite to eat at Rosa Bonheur — before it turns into a gay dance club

The bar is mellow and family-friendly on weekend days

The bar is mellow and family-friendly on weekend days

Cabin Fever

The laidback crowd features a mix of Parisian fashionistas and hip families earlier in the day, giving over predominantly to gay men as evening approaches.

Inside is a full bar and a food counter serving Mediterranean-style tapas. “Round Here” by the Counting Crows played. A little girl plopped herself down at the long table where we sat and began coloring in her book.

After an hour or so, as the afternoon wore into evening, the communal tables were pushed back, families disappeared, and it became a buzzing dance hall. The dance mix began with Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” followed by Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine.”

Later in the evening, I observed a couple of flannel-clad and unshaven “lumber gays,” one of whom was animalistically lapping the side of the other’s face.

The whimsical bar at Rosa Bonheur, where you can order tapas and the signature cocktail

The whimsical bar at Rosa Bonheur, where you can order tapas and the signature cocktail

Our drunken friend Michael sized up the crowd with one of his hilarious comments: “There’s a fat man, a gay man and another fat man, who’s probably gay. They all do blow in the bathroom and throw up.”

Wally and Duke in Buttes Chaumont, down the hill from Rosa Bonheur

Wally and Duke in Buttes Chaumont, down the hill from Rosa Bonheur

Insider’s Tip: If you want to visit Rosa Bonheur, arrive before 4 p.m., as a fence is put up then and you will have to wait in line to enter.

One of the signature cocktails we enjoyed was a refreshing elixir made with Lillet Blanc, grapefruit juice and ginger beer called the Rosa Summer. You can also order a chilled bottle of the Rosa Bonheur Rosé, so you don’t have to go back to to the bar as often.

We’ve recreated an ode to this at home, and you can easily make a pitcher of this to serve at your next soirée.

The Rosa Summer, the perfect summer cocktail

The Rosa Summer, the perfect summer cocktail

Rosa Summer

Ingredients

  • ¾ ounce Lillet Blanc
  • ½ ounce grapefruit juice
  • ½ ounce ginger beer

 

Preparation

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients except for the ginger beer. Shake vigorously for about 10 seconds.

Strain into a cocktail glass and top with a splash of ginger beer.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Enough Rosa Summers and you’ll be jumping for joy like Wally and Kent

Enough Rosa Summers and you’ll be jumping for joy like Wally and Kent

Kirsten and Jennifer sit on a bench with interesting graffiti outside the bar

Kirsten and Jennifer sit on a bench with interesting graffiti outside the bar


Rosa Bonheur
2 Allèe de la Cascade
Paris, France