paris

15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

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1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

 FHI BANGLADESH

2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

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3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

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4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

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5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

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6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

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7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

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8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

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9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

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10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

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11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

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12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

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13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

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14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

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15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

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 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.

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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

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

The Secrets of Parc des Buttes Chaumont

What to do in Paris? Visit this off-the-beaten-path park. It’s lovely now but had a gruesome origin.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont isn’t at the top of tourists’ itineraries, but it’s a great natural break from the heart of the city

Parc des Buttes Chaumont isn’t at the top of tourists’ itineraries, but it’s a great natural break from the heart of the city

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, our friends Michael and Kent took us to one of their favorite spots in Paris: Parc des Buttes Chaumont, located in the 19th arrondissement. We took the Métro to the Botzaris Station and walked until we arrived at the park.

Michael and a couple friends who also happened to be visiting Paris, Jennifer and Kirsten, went off in search of the guinguette (defined in the 1750 Dictionnaire de la langue français, as a “small cabaret in the suburbs and the surrounds of Paris, where craftsmen drink in the summer and on Sundays and on Festival day”). It’s called Rosa Bonheur, but Michael refers to it as the “Log Cabin.”

After the French Revolution, the tract of land became a refuse dump, a place for processing horse carcasses and a depository for sewage.
A historic postcard of the Temple of Sybille, the folly in Buttes Chaumont

A historic postcard of the Temple of Sybille, the folly in Buttes Chaumont

Kent, Wally and I decided to wander the idyllic and hilly park. It’s hard to believe, but the site, which loosely translates to “Bald Mountain,” took its name from the once-barren land, which, because of the chemical composition of its soil, used to be almost free of vegetation.

Wally and Duke in the folly at Buttes Chaumont, a little-known park in Paris

Wally and Duke in the folly at Buttes Chaumont, a little-known park in Paris

This horrific structure, known as a gibbet, displayed hanged corpses on the site of what is now Parc des Buttes Chamont

This horrific structure, known as a gibbet, displayed hanged corpses on the site of what is now Parc des Buttes Chamont

Park Life

Before the 19th century, it was considered just outside the city limits and near the Gibbet of Montfaucon, the main gallows of the kings of France. The natural elevation made it well suited to displaying the bodies of hanged criminals in a multi-tiered gibbet, a scaffold of sorts, from the 13th century until 1760.

After the French Revolution, the tract of land became a refuse dump, a place for processing horse carcasses and a depository for sewage. Another part of the acreage was a former gypsum and limestone quarry.

Emperor Louis-Napoléon III envisioned a bucolic public park with meandering paths, water features and cliffs. Though it was hardly an ideal location for such a park, Buttes Chaumont was the very spot on which Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who was chosen by Napoleon III to carry out his vision, commissioned landscape architect and civil engineer Jean-Charles Alphand to construct.

Alphand reported that “the site spread infectious emanations not only to the neighboring areas, but, following the direction of the wind, over the entire city.”

Despite this, work commenced in 1864, and the park made its debut during the 1867 Exposition Universelle.

The Greek temple, or folly, at Buttes Chaumont affords a fantastic view of Montmartre, topped by Sacré Coeur cathedral

The Greek temple, or folly, at Buttes Chaumont affords a fantastic view of Montmartre, topped by Sacré Coeur cathedral

Kent, who lives in Paris, took us on a tour of the park

Kent, who lives in Paris, took us on a tour of the park

Even though Kent and Wally are joking around, there are some precarious perches in Buttes Chaumont — be careful!

Even though Kent and Wally are joking around, there are some precarious perches in Buttes Chaumont — be careful!

Wally in the folly at Buttes Chaumont

Wally in the folly at Buttes Chaumont

We took a trail, crossing the Pont des Suicidés, or Suicide Bridge (at one point, it was a popular spot to off yourself), to reach the neo-Greek folly known as the Temple of Sybille. Perched atop a limestone cliff, it was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. From its vantage point, we could see the geometry of Paris laid out before us, with Sacré-Cœur Basilica glittering in the distance. –Duke

1, rue de Botzari
Paris, France

The site spread infectious emanations not only to the neighboring areas, but, following the direction of the wind, over the entire city.
— Jean-Charles Alphand, creator of Buttes Chaumont

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A Historical and Pictorial Tour

Once an undesirable place to be buried, the Paris cemetery has lured many dead celebrities, starting with Moliere, Jean de la Fontaine, and Abelard and Heloise.

A day spent wandering a cemetery as cool as Père Lachaise sure makes Wally happy

A day spent wandering a cemetery as cool as Père Lachaise sure makes Wally happy

Père Lachaise is the most popular cemetery in the world — and Duke can see why

Père Lachaise is the most popular cemetery in the world — and Duke can see why

Now reported as the most-visited cemetery in the world, Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France, was not so when it opened in 1804. Established on the site of a former Jesuit retreat, it was originally considered too far from the city limits to be a desirable place to spend eternity.

In addition to location, the land where it stood had not yet been blessed by the Church, thus deterring Roman Catholics from burying their relatives here. In fact, the cemetery contained only 13 graves in its first year.

The citizens of Paris began clamoring to be buried among the famous folk.

Headstones of the Dead and Famous

Because death is also a business, the administrators needed to find a way to attract the citizens of Paris to want to be buried there. With great fanfare, they devised a plan: They arranged the transfer of the remains of Jean de la Fontaine, famous for his Fables, and Molière, who wrote comedic plays, including Tartuffe and The Misanthrope. The campaign showed results, and in 1817, the remains of the legendary lovers Abélard and Hélöise were also transferred there. Again, the strategy proved successful, as the citizens of Paris began clamoring to be buried among these famous folk.

For a list of some of the most famous “residents” of Père Lachaise and how to make a game of honoring them, read our previous post.

The columbarium and cremation house were built in 1894 and designed by Jean Camille Formigé in a Neo-Byzantine style.

Vandalism is rampant throughout this immense space. Old family crypts have been pried open, their interior windows of stained glass broken or altogether missing.

The most moving memorials to me were those dedicated to the Jews deported to Nazi death camps.

Père Lachaise is filled with remarkable works of art and has become a hotspot for the dead and living alike. –Duke

Père Lachaise Cemetery Scavenger Hunt

What you should leave on the graves of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Georges Méliès and others. Finding them is part of the fun.

Think of Père Lachaise Cemetery as a large park — that just so happens to have a bunch of dead people buried in it

Think of Père Lachaise Cemetery as a large park — that just so happens to have a bunch of dead people buried in it

On the first day of class, a lot of my college professors would have everyone state an interesting fact about themselves. My go-to response was, “I like to hang out in cemeteries.”

I thought it was just odd enough to make me seem mysterious and it revealed my quirky nature.

At one point, the oversized testicles were removed, with the rumor being that the cemetery manager used them as paperweights.

It’s also true. I’m a sucker for cemeteries, whether they’re small graveyards tucked next to a church, with moldering tombstones or grand affairs with elaborate statues like the Cimiterio Monumentale I stumbled upon in Milan, Italy.

I’m a cemetery aficionado, a connoisseur, if you will. And hands down, there’s one cemetery that beats out all competitors: Père Lachaise in Paris, France.

Jim Morrison’s grave is barricaded off. Apparently his fans can be a bit unruly and destructive to other tombs

Jim Morrison’s grave is barricaded off. Apparently his fans can be a bit unruly and destructive to other tombs

It’s no surprise that Père Lachaise is said to be the most visited cemetery in the world. Situated in Paris’ 20th arrondissement, the necropolis is named for Father François d’Aix de La Chaise, who heard the many confessions of King Louis XIV.

There are 70,000-some graves packed into the 109 acres, many of them of famous individuals of all stripes. It became a scavenger hunt of sorts to use the map to try to locate particular graves — and once you find them, you realize many have a certain way people pay tribute to the ghosts of these great men and women.  

 

The iconic shot from Mélièrs’  A Trip to the Moon

The iconic shot from Mélièrs’ A Trip to the Moon

WHO: Georges Mélièrs, 1861-1938

FAMOUS FOR: Helping create the birth of cinema

WHAT TO LEAVE: Film canisters or something photography-related

Our first stop was at Méliers’ grave. He’s famous for A Trip to the Moon — you might have seen the iconic image of a rockship that lands in the eye of the Man in the Moon. The gorgeous and magical movie Hugo is a worthy tribute to Mélièrs.

This was our first hint at how difficult finding particular graves can be. We were sure we were in the right spot, but just couldn’t find Mélièrs’ tombstone. A nice older gentleman must have known what we were looking for — he came over and pointed down into a mass of tombstones. I spoke with him briefly in French. We realized the grave was a couple of rows deep on a narrow side path.

“There goes the stereotype of French people being rude,” Duke said. 

We still couldn’t find a way down into the depths, but then we saw a couple coming up the hill from the main road, like the entrance to a secret passage.

Leave something photo- or film-related on Mélièrs’ grave — or just a note

Leave something photo- or film-related on Mélièrs’ grave — or just a note

Wally’s note reads, “Thanks for all the magic!”

Wally’s note reads, “Thanks for all the magic!”

One never knows when some graveyard dirt will come in handy

One never knows when some graveyard dirt will come in handy

Oscar Wilde, the dandy himself

Oscar Wilde, the dandy himself

WHO: Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900

FAMOUS FOR: Writer (The Portrait of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest), witticist, gay pioneer

WHAT TO LEAVE: A lipstick kiss

Wilde had some great lines. My personal favorite has always been: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

His grave is one of the more interesting ones at Père Lachaise. Part of the Art Deco stone monolith is an angular angel, with massive wings and anatomically correct privates. At one point, the oversized testicles were removed, with the rumor being that the cemetery manager used them as paperweights.

In the 1990s, a new tradition started: People would leave lipstick kisses on Wilde’s grave. It’s a sweet idea, and one I think Wilde himself would approve of. But the cemetery staff kept cleaning them off, which was causing irreparable damage.

So, in 2011, a glass wall was erected around the grave. So you can leave a kiss for Wilde — without damaging his tomb.

I didn’t happen to have any lipstick, so I wrote him a nice note and left that instead.

Even with a glass barrier, people still find ways to kiss Wilde’s grave. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind

Even with a glass barrier, people still find ways to kiss Wilde’s grave. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind

Wally is wild about Wilde

Wally is wild about Wilde

Édith Piaf

Édith Piaf

WHO: Édith Piaf, 1915-1963

FAMOUS FOR: Songstress (“La Vie en Rose”)

WHAT TO LEAVE: Roses

You’ll have to hunt for a grave marked, “Famille Gassion-Piaf.” I didn’t have any flowers, so I tried to draw one on a note I left on her tomb.

Not Wally’s best work, but he wanted to offer Piaf a flower of sorts

Not Wally’s best work, but he wanted to offer Piaf a flower of sorts

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

WHO: Marcel Proust, 1871-1922

FAMOUS FOR: Writer (In Search of Lost Time)

WHAT TO LEAVE: Métro ticket stubs

I couldn’t find anything about why people decided to start leaving subway ticket stubs. I could make up some bullshit about the subway trains symbolizing the passage of time — but it was probably the only thing a tourist had in their pocket, others followed suit, and a tradition was born.

These were the main graves we left tributes on. There are plenty of other celebrities’ graves to hunt down at Père Lachaise. Look over the list and decide which ones you’d like to honor. When in doubt, bring a pad of paper and write a note about how the person touched your life. Or start your own tradition.

If you’ve never spent an afternoon wandering through a cemetery, Père Lachaise is a great place to start. You’re sure to be converted. It might sound creepy, but it’s really not. Maybe it even helps us, in some small way, accept the inevitability of death. –Wally

Les Portes de Paris – Paris Doors

If you’re one of those people who love pictures of doors, come right in.

 

You’ve seen the posters. They show pictures of doors found throughout a particular city.

What is it about doors that so peaks our interest? Doors simultaneously close you off and welcome you in. There’s a sense of mystery surrounding them: What world will you discover once you cross the threshold?

As we wandered around Paris, Duke periodically snapped pics of doors. In lieu of making our own poster, here’s a sampling of some of the most stylish doors of a stylish city. 

While doors are lovely and all, Duke and I much prefer to take photos of the stray cats found throughout a city. They’ve got more personality. –Wally

20 Best Instagram Photos of 2016

You saw, you liked. Here are our best-rated travel photos on Instagram of last year.

 

Looking back, 2016 taught me the importance of staying connected to friends near and far. Seeking new perspectives to overcome hurdles and nurturing the labor of love Wally and I call the Not So Innocents Abroad.

Our hope is to share our experiences of other cities and other cultures. Whether exploring the unusual 161-year-old Dhundiraj Ganpati Mandir wooden Hindu temple in Baroda, India or asking our friends abroad to vocalize how they felt about the polarizing effects of the American election, we’re grateful for the role you’ve played and look forward to welcoming a year filled with optimism and new adventures.

 

Choose Your Own Adventure

As the old adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Predicting what makes one image more engaging than another can be difficult to determine and often, like art, is simply subjective.

From amazing destinations that include Cambodia, France, India and Morocco, here’s a look back at our most popular Instagrams of last year.

Follow us on Instagram — and be a part of the action! –Duke

1. If Aix-en-Provence, France doesn’t charm you with its markets, food and architecture, there is no shortage of magnificent elaborately hand-carved entry doors to look at.

2. The beautiful Italianate courtyard outside the Darbar Hall at Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara, India.

3. Deco Darling. Tucked away in the Fès Medina, Morocco, is the beautiful Palais Amani. Originally owned by a prominent Fassi family of merchants, the majority of the residence was rebuilt in the Art Deco style after a landslide badly damaged the 17th century property.

4. The Café St. Regis was one of our favorite spots to enjoy breakfast when we visited Paris, France.

5. The façade of Notre Dame in Paris has many interesting details, but perhaps none as unique as the sculpture in the left portal holding his head. The statue is of St. Denis, said to have picked his head up after being decapitated and walked six miles, while preaching a sermon of repentance the entire way. If it takes me 45 minutes on the treadmill at 6 miles per hour, he would have walked an hour plus!

6. Both covered and open-air, the green metal pavilions from the 1900s form the charming flower market located on Place Louis Lépine in Paris, between the Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte Chapelle chapel.

7. A view of the magnificent Rajon Ki Baoli stepwell in Delhi, India, built by Daulat Khan during the reign of Sikandar Lodi in 1516. Chambers located behind the arch-shaped niches once provided respite from the heat and a place for patrons to socialize.

8. One of the splendid staircases with its elegant wrought-iron railing inside the 18th century Hotel d’Albertas mansion in Aix-en-Provence, France. Embellishments such as these were a sign of family wealth intended to call out the social status of the owner.

9. Neptune wielding a trident riding on a fish by sculptor André Massoule on the Beaux-Arts Pont Alexandre III in Paris. A marvel of 19th century engineering, this bridge consists of a 20-foot-high single-span steel arch.

10. Musical Chairs. I was awestruck by the hypnotic symmetry of the rows of empty ladder-back chairs awaiting the devout at Saint Suplice in Paris. The ethereal Catholic church, located in the 6th arrondissement, is the second largest in Paris and it was in some movie called The Da Vinci Code. 😜

11. The enormous grooved stump of lime mortar and rubble masonry are all that remains of the unfinished Alai Minar in Delhi. The minaret was intended to rival the Qutb Minar in both size and scale, but was never completed.

12. Part of the Right Bank, this busy square located in Montmartre, Paris is known for its portrait artists and painters. During the Belle Époque, at the beginning of the 20th century, many artists, including Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh resided and worked here.

13. Fez was founded in 859 CE. The origin of the name is unknown. Some scholars believe it comes from the old Berber name of the Middle Atlas Mountains, Fazaz. Other stories trace the name back to a tale of a golden axe that divided the river of Fez into two halves. In Arabic, a fez is an axe.

14. Built by sculptor Jean-Claude Rambot and situated in the heart of the Mazarin district, the Fountain of the Four Dolphins in Aix supports an obelisk topped with a pineapple. We spent an afternoon here with our sketchbooks pretending we were bohemian artistes.

15. The stunning Angkor Wat temple, the largest religious monument in the world, was built by Khmer king Suryavarman II in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s a symbolic representation of Mount Meru, the Mount Olympus of the Hindu faith and the abode of ancient gods. The complex has been in continuous use since it was built.

16. Benched. There is something beautiful in the patina of these benches in Aix Cathedral combined with the well-worn brick floor that has stood the test of time.

17. A Room With a View. Our grand suite at the Udai Bilas Palace in Dungarpur, India looked out onto the tranquil waters of Gaibsagar Lake, where the royal family’s private island temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva floats serenely.

18. Set in Stone. A white marble cenotaph lies at the center of Safdarjung’s tomb in Delhi.

19. Kittens and cats are a common sight among the streets of the Marrakech Medina in Morocco, indifferent to the activity around them. This little guy came to visit while we were sitting having coffee.

20. Louvre is in the air at Paris’ famous museum.