Paris: The City of Light




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Paris does not have a wild plethora of neon like Times Square in New York or the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. It’s called the City of Light because of its importance during the Age of Enlightenment and because it was one of the first European cities to get street lighting.

My wife and I spent a week in Paris to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary in 2011. We had never been there before and we were in for a treat. Paris is fabulous.

Today’s post will give you an overview. In future posts I’ll look at the Palais de Versailles, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Eiffel Tower and more. But my very next post will be a bit more risque. I call it Paris: Ooh-la-la!!! Watch for it.

In any event, we flew out in mid-September, arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport around noon on the 17th. Our hotel was on the other side of town, just south of the Bois de Boulogne in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

The Tim Hotel on the Place Marcel-Sembat
The Tim Hotel on the Place Marcel-Sembat

We schlepped our bags across town on Paris’s excellent rail network, changing trains at the huge Gare de Nord. The stations have no escalators so it was a bit of a haul. But finally we arrived at the Marcel-Sembat Station, which conveniently lay just below the Tim Hotel where we were staying. It overlooks Place Marcel-Sembat, one of the busiest intersections in the region with streets emanating like spokes on a wheel – eight of them.

Jet-lagged as we were, we weren’t about to throw away half a day sleeping. After a quick shower we went down and asked the concierge how to get to the Eiffel Tower. He told us to hop the Metro to the Trocadero Station.

Now Paris’s subway system is superb (despite the lack of escalators at stations). We got week-long tickets and hopped on. At the Trocadero Station we got off. Up some steps and we were at the back of the Palais de Chaillot. We hiked up some more steps to the vast Trocadero Plaza and there it was. Magnificent! Absolutely stunning! The Eiffel Tower!

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadero Plaza.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadero Plaza. In this photo it looks like it is right there on the Plaza, but it is actually across the Seine River.

We walked towards it and found it was across the Seine River from the plaza. We descended the steps to street level and crossed the bridge feeling euphoric that we were actually in Paris.

We decided against going up the tower, opting to take a riverboat cruise on the Seine to give us an overview. The tour guide brought our attention to various points of interest along the way as the boat headed downstream, around Notre Dame Cathedral and back.

One of the many tour boats on the Seine.
One of the many tour boats on the Seine.
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The back of Notre Dame Cathedral with its flying buttresses.

Years ago in Vancouver I used to eat at a little restaurant on Thurlow called Le Bistro. My favorite dish was something called a Croque Monsieur. So I was pleased that food was available on the boat and Croque Monsieur was on the menu. Unfortunately, it did not hold a candle to the one at Le Bistro. In fact, I have yet to find one as good.

Le Pont Alexandre III
Le Pont Alexandre III, one of many bridges across the Seine.

After returning to our starting point we decided to walk to the Arc de Triomphe. We could see it in the distance. Paris is actually a great city for walking. All the major venues are within walking distance and we only used the Metro occasionally. The famous arch was just over two kilometres away, a half hour walk.

The Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe

The arch stands in the middle of a large traffic circle at one end of the Champs Elysees. We walked around and under it but did not go to the top. We never did get around to going up to the top – something for our next trip!

At the other end of the Champs Elysées is the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre. The Champs is a huge roadway with four lanes in each direction. We walked by shops and other sites and saw a long lineup at a place across the street. Later we learned it was a new Abercrombie and Fitch store and the lineup was job applicants.

Job seekers outside Abercrombie and Fitch on the Champs Elysees.
Job seekers outside Abercrombie and Fitch on the Champs Elysées.

Among other sites, we passed Le Grand Palais. This is a huge convention center with a massive glass roof. A variety of different trade and other shows are held there. While we were in Paris they had a an exhibition on the history of video games.

Le Grand Palais, Paris's Trade and Convention Centre
Le Grand Palais, Paris’s Trade and Convention Centre.

The Champs Elysees ends at the Place de la Concorde where the giant Luxor Obelisk stands. This is one of the original obelisks from the Luxor Temple in Egypt and was gifted to the people of France by Muhammed Ali, Khedive of Egypt in 1833. It is over 3000 years old and was moved to its current location in 1836.

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The 3000 year old Luxor Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde

But in 1793 this large square was called the Place de la Révolution. Close your eyes and visualize the square filled with throngs of rough-hewn people, milling and jostling for a view of the object in the center. On a platform – the guillotine. Tumbrils roll up carrying their victims for the day. One by one they are led up the steps of the scaffold. They are strapped to a board and tilted into place. The knife drops. The executioner draws the head out of the basket and holds it aloft to show the jeering crowd. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were among its victims. It’s enough to make the blood run cold as an icy finger traces down your spine. Hard to believe that happened here.

Paris is a city of gardens as well as famous buildings, including les Jardins Luxembourg near the Sorbonne University. Along the Champs Elysées we passed a number of beautiful gardens before arriving at the Tuileries, gardens built by Queen Catherine de Medicis in the 1564. She also had a palace built at one end (between the gardens and the Louvre). The palace served as the city residence for the royal family and was burned down by the Paris Commune in 1871.

The Louvre seen from the round pond in the Tuileries Garden
The Louvre seen from the round pond in the Tuileries Garden

The original garden measured 500 meters by 300 meters and was the largest garden in Paris at the time. (It still is.) After it became a public park, many statues were placed here and it is stunning both as a garden and a museum piece.

Staute of Theseus and the Minotaur in the Jardins des Tuileries
Statue of Theseus and the Minotaur in the Jardin des Tuileries

We passed the mini-Arc de Triomphe and headed to the Louvre. This immense art museum used to be a palace before Queen Catherine abandoned it and built the new one. The Louvre was also torched by the Communards in 1871 but miraculously survived.

In a central plaza in the nook formed by the U-shaped Louvre is the famous glass pyramid. We’ll take a closer look at the Louvre in another post.

Yours truly in front of the Louvre
Yours truly in front of the Louvre

We left the Louvre and walked down some steps to the banks of the Seine, walking along its length for a while. On the far side we saw the Musée d’Orsay, which used to be a train station. It is reminiscent of the old Gare Montparnasse shown in the Academy Award winning movie Hugo.

The Musée d'Orsay is housed in a former railroad station.
The Musée d’Orsay is housed in a former railroad station.

Soon we found ourselves back at the Eiffel Tower. We crossed over to the Palais de Challot and the Trocadero Metro station for the short hop back to the hotel. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, we hit the hay, looking forward to the rest of our time in Paris. Our appetite had been whetted and we would eat up the city with gusto.

Statue in front of the Palais de Chaillot across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The Palais is also a museum.
Statue in front of the Palais de Chaillot across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The Palais is also a museum. The top of the building directly behind the statue is the Trocadero Plaza. You can see people standing at the edge of it.

Our next post will be Paris: Ooh-la-la. It will tell an amusing story of an unexpected encounter on our first morning in Paris, as well as our visit to the Moulin Rouge on our last evening in Europe. Watch for it!

Meanwhile, check out our photo gallery of additional pictures of Paris. Click on the link below or scroll on down if you are on this website’s main page.



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Photo Gallery: Malaga




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Here are a few additional photos of our visit to Malaga, Spain.

Alongside the Alcazabar
Alongside the Alcazaba. The Castillo de Gibralfaro is at the top of the hill ahead.
Looking up at part of the Alcazabar
Looking up at part of the Alcazaba
Janis in the Alcazabar
Janis by a gate in the Alcazaba
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Along the ramparts of the Alcazaba, the city of Malaga in the background.
Gardens at the Alcazaba
Gardens at the Alcazaba
There are actually two layers of walls at the Alcazaba - a fort within a fort so to speak. The outer wall goes our straight ahead, the inner wall off to the right.
There are actually two layers of walls at the Alcazaba – a fort within a fort so to speak. The outer wall goes our straight ahead, the inner wall off to the right.
The Cathedral of Malaga seen from the Alcazaba
The Cathedral of Malaga seen from the Alcazaba
Another view of the Cathedral of Malaga
Another view of the Cathedral of Malaga
Watering hole for the horses of yore
Watering hole for the horses of yore
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Arabic ceiling in one of the rooms in the palace.
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Looking east from the Alcazaba. You can see the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso just below and the Maragueta bull fighting arena behind it.
Looking east. The fortress is on a hillside and follows the terrain up and down.
Looking east. The fortress is on a hillside and follows the terrain up and down. That’s our friend Chris striking a pose.
Leaving the Alcazaba behind as we head up hill
Leaving the Alcazaba behind as we head up hill
As we left the Alcazaba and headed up the hill, we saw this amazing fig tree.
As we left the Alcazaba and headed up the hill, we saw this amazing tree.
The Alcazaba is far below us now
The Alcazaba is far below us now
The Port of Malaga
The Port of Malaga
The Malagueta, Malaga's bull fighting ring. Fights are held from April to September.
The Malagueta, Malaga’s bull fighting ring. Fights are held from April to September.
You can get bull fighting posters in some of the gift shops.
You can get bull fighting posters in some of the gift shops.
We find a cannon at the entry to the Castillo.
We find a cannon at the entry to the Castillo.
One of the displays at the museum before you go into the castle.
One of the displays at the museum before you go into the castle.
Along the castle walls
Along the castle walls
Janis on guard duty!
Janis on guard duty!
Looking out on the harbour from the guard hut
Looking out on the harbour from the guard hut
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Our ship, the Navigator of the Seas is the one you see head on at the left. Three cruise ships were in port that day.
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We quite liked this townhouse complex with a rooftop pool that we saw looking down from the ramparts.
The Alcazaba below us
The Alcazaba below us
Walking around the ramparts of the Castillo de Gabrilfaro
Walking around the ramparts of the Castillo de Gabrilfaro
After going down and around the ramparts, we head back up the other side
After going down and around the ramparts, we head back up the other side
Much of the interior of the fortress grounds are covered with grass and trees.
Much of the interior of the fortress grounds are covered with grass and trees.
Looking back at where we just came from.
Looking back at where we just came from.
The city seen through a notch in the battlements
The city seen through a notch in the battlements
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Almost back to our starting point in circumnavigating the Castillo.
Back at street level we see the Alcazaba again
Back at street level we see the Alcazaba again
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso
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A statue in the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso. This statue is called El Biznaguero. can’t find a translation for that.

 

We headed west along the Paseo Parque to the downtown.
We headed west along the Paseo Parque to the downtown.
The streets here are closed to traffic and seem to be made of polished marble.
The streets here are closed to traffic and seem to be made of polished marble.
The architecture of Malaga is gorgeous.
The architecture of Malaga is gorgeous.
Some very old buildings but kept in excellent shape.
Some very old buildings but kept in excellent shape.
Janis and one of the living statues.
Janis and one of the living statues.
Chris and one of the living statues
Chris and one of the living statues
She's got on a lot of make-up to make her face look as if made of stone.
She’s got on a lot of make-up to make her face look as if made of stone.
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A sidewalk restaurant in Malaga
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Much of this downtown area is pedestrian only.
As we headed back to the ship , we saw these horse-drawn carriages. A nice way to get around parts of Malaga.
As we headed back to the ship , we saw these horse-drawn carriages. A nice way to get around parts of Malaga.

 




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Old Lisbon




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The second port of call on our 2009 trans-Atlantic cruise was Lisbon, Portugal. While had taken a shore excursion on our first stop, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we opted to check out Lisbon on our own. Upon disembarking, there were free shuttle buses to transport us to the Baixa and surrounding districts which make up the historic centre of Lisbon, much like the 20 arrondissements make up the historic centre of Paris.

Lisbon has a lot of history behind it. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating London, Paris and Rome by centuries. The bus dropped us off at outside the Rua Augusta Arch – the gateway to Old Lisbon.

The Rua Augusta Arch was built to comemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake.
The Rua Augusta Arch was built to commemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake. The 100 foot high arch is surmounted by a 23 foot tall statue.

We passed through the arch into the downtown area, a warren of narrow streets with shops and apartments, as well as large plazas. The area was bustling with activity. It is largely a pedestrian only area though there are trams running up and down the narrow streets and some cars as well. Lisbon also has three funicular trams as the city lies on a hillside sloping down towards the Tagus River.

Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the arch.
Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the Rua Augusta Arch.

We noticed a large fortress off to our right so we decided to check it out. The Castelo de Sao Jorge is in the Alfama district, one of the oldest districts in Lisbon and the only one not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. To get there we strolled up some narrow streets, passing the Lisbon Cathedral along the way.

Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon Cathedral

The castle itself is Moorish and was captured by Christian forces in 1147 during the Second Crusade. Lisbon became the capital in 1255 and the castle was renovated and extended over the next hundred and twenty -five years.

The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.

We spent a good while there exploring the castle and walking along the battlements which command a panoramic view of Lisbon.

On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.
On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.

Then we walked back towards the central part of old Lisbon. Along the way we watched as the trams made their way through the narrow thoroughfares.

Up the hill from the Rua Augusta Arch we came across the San Justa Lift. The Baixa district is flanked by steep hillsides, one leading to the Castelo on the right and another to the Bairro Alto on the left. The San Justa Lift takes passengers from the Baixa up to the Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square). Construction was started in 1900 and completed in 1902. Originally powered by steam, it converted to electricity in 1907. It stands 45 metres tall (about seven stories) We did not go up the elevator but did take a funicular later in the day.

The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.
The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.

Further up the road from the lift is the impressive Rossio Square. The square features a large fountain and a statue of Pedro IV (Peter the Fourth). During the Spanish Inquisition, the square was the site of public executions, the notorious auto-da-fé which saw its victims burned at the stake.

Fountain in Rossio Square
Fountain in Rossio Square. You can see some of the inlaid Portuguese pavement below the fountain.

But its most striking feature is the Portuguese pavement. Portuguese pavement is a surface created with inlaid stones of different colours to form intricate patterns.  The Rossio plaza is particularly striking because of the optical illusion it gives of waves and motion. You can see in the video below that my camera did not like it much.


We wandered further up the hill and came across Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe (seems every major city has one!) And across the plaza from the Hard Rock we found the Ascensor da Gloria, one of three funicular trams in the city. This inclined railway dates from 1885. We hopped the tram and later walked back down to the Baixa.

Walking back down we passed a little shop whose door was flanked by two carved wooden figures. These figures seem to be popular in Lisbon. We saw quite a few of them at various places.

Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this establishment.
Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this restaurant. Such figures are popular in Lisbon.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto. You can see the Castelo de Sao Jorge in the distance.

All in all we had a terrific time in Lisbon. A lovely city with many interesting sights.



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Photo Gallery: Lisbon




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to Lisbon.

At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The battlements of the Castelo.
The battlements of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
Another turret.
Another turret.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
The battlements had narrow slits fro snipers to shoot through.
The battlements had narrow slits for snipers to shoot through.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Lisbon's Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
How sixties! The Hippie cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
How Sixties! The Hippie Cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Another carved figure.
Another carved figure, this one outside a bakery.
Lots of sidewalk cafes in Lisbon.
Lots of sidewalk cafés in Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.




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The Cats of Cadiz




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Cadiz, Spain was the third port of call on the trans-Atlantic cruise we took in April 2009. It lies along the coast of Spain  on the Atlantic about 150 kilometres from Gibraltar (119 km via the inland route), not quite two thirds of the way from Portugal to Gibraltar. It lies on a narrow spit of land, a peninsula, jutting out from the mainland to enclose a large bay, though it looks more like an island connected by a causeway to the mainland.

The city is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. It is the capital of the province of Cadiz and is part of the autonomous region of Andalusia.

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The Port of Cadiz

The port is on the sheltered side of the peninsula on the North end. This is adjacent to the Old Town, the walled part of the city. This part has preserved much of its ancient heritage and differs significantly from the more modern city outside the walls with its narrow cobblestone streets and small shops. But even in the modern part of the city, all buildings are fairly small as Cadiz sits on a sandspit, making the sinking of the foundations necessary to support highrises prohibitively expensive.

As with all ports of call, we had an option to take one of several excursions, including one to the inland city of Seville, but we opted to explore on our own. And we are glad we did. The Old Town is not very large and you can explore much of it during a stopover.

The Old Town of Cadiz is a walled city. Beyond the wall is modern Cadiz with wide tree-lined streets and shopping plazas. All the beaches are in this area.
The Old Town of Cadiz is a walled city. Beyond the wall is modern Cadiz with wide tree-lined streets and shopping plazas. All the beaches are in this area. This photo taken from the modern city side looking towards the Old Town. There are few vehicles in Old Town as the streets are narrow.

We left the port and followed the road along the wall separating it from the newer part of the city to the side  of the peninsula facing the open sea.

The short walk across the peninsula to the ocean took us to a steep sea wall with walk along the top. Part of the sea wall was overgrown with shrubs and we spotted cardboard boxes and other bits of debris here and there. We were surprised to find that these were home to a couple of dozen feral cats.

This fellow came along and fed the cats and replenished their water bowls.
This fellow came along and fed the cats and replenished their water bowls. The modern part of Cadiz can be seen in the background beyond the fortress.

As we watched the cats, they started running up the wall towards the ledge at the top. A man was approaching and calling to them. As they circled around him, he opened a couple of shopping bags and pulled out tins of cat food which he opened. He spread the cat food out in glops along the ledge and the cats had a feast. He also replenished their water bowls.

This is one of the pleasures of exploring a port of call on your own. You sometimes run into the unexpected and so it was with the cats. After the man finished feeding them, he cleaned up and headed off and so did we.

It wasn’t long before we came to a Roman theatre. This archaeological work was not discovered until 1980 when a warehouse fire destroyed the buildings sitting on top of it. The theatre, the second largest Roman theatre in the world after the one in Pompeii, is still being restored to this day. Roman theatres are different than Roman amphitheatres. Roman theatres are semi-circles and much smaller than the amphitheatres which are full circles enclosing a large area where sporting events and games were held. The Coliseum in Rome is an amphitheatre.

Roman theatre in Cadiz
Roman theatre in Cadiz
This Roman theatre is the second largest in the world after the one in Pompeii. It was not discovered until 1980.
This Roman theatre is the second largest in the world after the one in Pompeii. It was not discovered until 1980.

We asked Anna, the woman at the ticket booth, about the cats and she said they were much revered in Cadiz because they kept the rats out. People often feed them she said.

After checking out the theatre we decided to check out the white tower we saw behind it. That turned out to be part of Cadiz Cathedral.

One of the two towers of the Cadiz Cathedral.
One of the two towers of the Cadiz Cathedral.

Construction on the cathedral began in 1722 and continued for 116 years. It started out in the baroque style, but because it took so long to build, there are also rococo and neoclassical elements. The building was undergoing extensive restoration and repair work when we were there but still open to the public.

The Cathedral of Cadiz
The Cathedral of Cadiz

It is beautiful inside with the ornate woodwork and statuary you’ll find in most Roman Catholic cathedrals. It also had a magnificent pipe organ and below the cathedral was a catacomb with numerous plaques and tombs.

The pipe organ at Cadiz Cathedral
The pipe organ at Cadiz Cathedral
Some of the tombs in the catacomb below the cathedral.
Some of the tombs in the catacomb below the cathedral.

We wanted to pick up a few odds and sods before returning to the ship so we crossed through the gates in the huge stone wall surrounding the Old Town and made our way along some tree lined boulevards to a shopping mall. From there we walked back to the ship along the port road, passing by an extensive rail yard as we went. Spain has an excellent railroad system which we would use later when we travelled from Barcelona to Figueres. But that is a story for a later blog post!

The rail yard of Cadiz, part of Spain's efficient rail network.
The rail yard of Cadiz, part of Spain’s efficient rail network.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to Cadiz, a charming little city by the sea.

Additional Photos




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Photo Gallery: Cadiz




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Here are some additional pictures of our visit to Cadiz in 2009.

Hungry cats find a friend.
Hungry cats find a friend.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall. That’s the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
The Cathedral of Cadiz
The Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the cathedral.
The pulpit inside the cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz. It is still an active church with regular services.
The pipe organ
The pipe organ
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
In the catacomb below the cathedral
In the catacomb below the cathedral
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Our cruise ship in the distance.
Our cruise ship in the distance. Beyond is the mainland of Spain.




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