Rome’s Colosseum




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The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and a must-see highlight of any visit to Rome. We spent a day there before taking a Mediterranean cruise in 2011. After the cruise we spent another day in the city.

That first day had us take a hop on/hop off bus around the city and one of our hop off points was the Colosseum. We grabbed a light lunch and then walked around the perimeter.

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This photo is a merge of two others. It captures the immense size of the Colosseum.

It is an ancient building and in remarkably good repair considering it is almost 2000 years old. Construction started under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. He died in 79 AD and did not see the building completed the following year under his heir Titus. Financed by the spoils of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was built with the slave labour of 100,000 Jews captured and spirited off to Rome.

Made of concrete and sand, it was large enough to accommodate 50-80,000 spectators, averaging around 65,000. Like modern stadiums, it was a venue for mass entertainment which included battling gladiators, wild animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles, dramas based on Classical mythology and public executions. Yes, Christians were fed to lions here. In fact, the Pope marks every Good Friday by a Way of the Cross procession that starts at the Colosseum to honour Christian martyrs.

The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.
The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.

Interestingly enough, twenty years after its construction, the poet Juvenal published his Satire X which includes the following lines:

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Juvenal is lamenting the practice of gaining political office by bribing the voters with free wheat and mass spectacles. It marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. Walking around the perimeter we were impressed by the vastness of the Colosseum and its great beauty. The two millennia since its creation have left it weathered and eroded. It underwent extensive renovations from 1993 to 2000 at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire (US$19.3 million).

End on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum
This end on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum captures its great height. The outer wall is shored up by supports built during renovations.

There were originally two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall. The inner wall remains largely intact but only a small portion of the outer wall remains. It is shored up at both ends by sloped concrete supports. But even with all the renovation, you can see cracks in the facade at various places, not to mention large stones at the base which have fallen from the structure.

Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn't seem to phase the tourists walking below.
Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn’t seem to phase the tourists walking below.

We saw some men in gladiator garb posing with tourists on our walk as well as a wedding party. It is a popular locale for wedding photos.

The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos.
The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos. Did you spot them in the picture of the Arch of Constantine above?

After our cruise we visited the Colosseum once again, this time paying to go inside. Well worth the money. The inside is as spectacular as the outside and well worth the visit.

As we entered we passed a recently recovered partial statue. There is continuous archeological work going on around Rome. This partial statue was probably of a horse and rider, but we were amused by it because all that remains is, how shall we put it, a horse’s ass.

The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.
The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.

Inside you get a terrific view of the hypogeum, a series of underground passages and rooms, and a partially reconstructed stage at one end. The staging, made of wood, covered the entire subterranean level during the Colosseum’s heyday. Many spectacles were staged that involved lifts and hoists moving animals, actors and stage props from below to the arena floor.

The interior os the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.
The interior of the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.

The hypogeum was a later addition to the Colosseum and in its early years, at least two mock sea battles or naumachiae were staged there. This involved filling the basin with water and bringing in ships. One was staged by Titus when the Colosseum opened in 80 AD and another by Domitian in 85 AD.

It must have been quite the spectacle. Some experts figure that water supplied by aqueducts and a series of pipes and channels could fill the basin to a depth of five feet in just 35 to 76 minutes. These battles were considerably bloodier than the gladiatorial battles often staged in the arena. They involved many more people, 3000 in the event staged by Titus. Condemned prisoners were used and they fought to the death.

Shortly after the last naumachia,  the hypogeum was built which precluded staging more of these spectacles.

Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.
Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.

Up to 80,000 people filled the stadium in its prime but  little seating remains. There are many sloped angular buttresses which held the seating at one time, but now stand alone. There is a little bit of seating extant above the renovated stage area. I’m not sure if this is original or recreated for tourists.

Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.

One of the things we noticed in the Colosseum was the large number of feral cats. We noticed them outside on our earlier visit and now again inside. Not sure what it is with ancient ruins and wild felines, but we first encountered them in the walled city of Cadiz in Spain and we later came across more of them at the ruins in Ephesus.

Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.
Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Colosseum and can only imagine how it must have been in its heyday, the scene of great and bloody spectacles. The fact that these extravaganzas were staged with real people fighting to the death or even put to death in contests with ferocious beasts gives one chills. But even today gore fests remain popular in movies and television shows, though these are non-lethal make-believe. In less civilized parts of the world, live beheadings and stonings of the condemned remain popular with the masses.

I’ve included an additional photo gallery as well as links to a couple of articles on naumachiae.

 

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Photo Gallery: The Colosseum




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the Colosseum.

The exterior wall of the Colosseum. Only part of it remains.
The exterior wall of the Colosseum. Only part of it remains.
Cracks in the facade.
Cracks in the facade.
Actors pose with tourists for pictures
Actors pose with tourists for pictures
Interior walls supported by flying buttresses which also supported the seating.
Interior walls supported by flying buttresses which also supported the seating.
More of the interior of the Colosseum
More of the interior of the Colosseum
The long center pathway of the hypogeum
The long center pathway of the hypogeum
The recreated stage area
The recreated stage area
The colour of the sandstone can be seen in the bright sunlight. In shadow it looks quite gray.
The colour of the sandstone can be seen in the bright sunlight. In shadow it looks quite gray.
Looking down from one of the upper tiers
Looking down from one of the upper tiers
Another view from an upper tier
Another view from an upper tier
From outside you can see some of the interior through the archways, but it is still worth paying to go in.
From outside you can see some of the interior through the archways, but it is still worth paying to go in.
This end of the outer wall is of modern construction, created during extensive renovations to preserve the outer wall.
This end of the outer wall is of modern construction, created during extensive renovations to preserve the outer wall.
The Temple of Venus and Roma is just across the street from the Colosseum. In fact, much of Rome is one big archeological dig.
The Temple of Venus and Roma is just across the street from the Colosseum. In fact, much of Rome is one big archeological dig.

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Sicily and Mount Etna




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To celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary we spent a week in Paris followed by a Mediterranean cruise. The first port of call was Sicily. The ship passed through the narrow strait between the island and the toe of Italy’s boot and then into the harbor of Messina, the island’s third largest city. A golden statue known as the Madonna of the Letter greets you as you enter the sheltered bay. The latin quote at its base says “Vos at ipsam civitatem benedicimus”. It means “We bless you and your city” and is a taken from a letter sent by the Virgin Mary to the people of Messina in 42 AD.

The Madonna of the Letter
The Madonna of the Letter greets ships arriving at Messina, Sicily

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is rich in history with Greek, Roman, Phoenician and Byzantine influences. There are many ancient ruins as well as cathedrals to visit, but we opted for a trip up Mount Etna. The only volcano I had seen up close before was Mount Saint Helens in Washington state.

A bus took us along the shore road that included a number of short tunnels as we wended our way south. We stopped at the town of Giardini Naxos where we saw a copy of the Winged Nike, Goddess of Victory. The original is in the Louvre in Paris. The metal statue was created by Italian  sculptor Carmelo Mendola in 1965. It stands on Cape Schiso looking out to sea. It marks the spot where Greeks landed to found a colony in 734 BC.

Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily
Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily

From there we went up the coast to the small town of Giarre where we visited the artisan jewelry factory of Gival. It is located in a grand old mansion, a beautiful building which features gilt ceilings in its spacious lobby.

The ceiling at Gival Jewelry
The magnificent ceiling at Gival Jewelry

In the basement we saw a number of artisans at work. Later we were treated to complimentary drinks and snacks. The banquet room had a display of seven swords in a fan shape on the wall.

Artisans at work making jewelry
Artisans at work making jewelry
Swords on display in the banquet room
Swords on display in the banquet room above the table of goodies

After we left the jewelry place, we took a long and winding road up Mount Etna, passing a number of vineyards along the way. The road took us to the Sylvestri Crater, the highest point you can reach by car or bus (1900 metres). Etna erupted at this point in 1892 but it has been dormant since then. The Google Earth map below shows the crater.

As you can see, there is a restaurant nearby as well as a large parking lot. The entire complex straddles a lava flow from higher up. The landscape is stark and almost barren. A few grasses have managed to emerge in places.

The Sylvestri Crater
The Sylvestri Crater

A roadway between the restaurant and the parking area runs right over the lava flow. This flow, a guide told us, is less than twenty years old. Etna is still a very active volcano. Unfortunately, some people don’t know how to take pride in this piece of heritage and litter could be seen on the lava.

A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.
A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.

Nearby was a gondola ride to a higher elevation. It was a bit foggy on the day we were there so we did not go higher. But what we saw was spectacular. I’d love to be there when Etna is actually erupting. That would be one heck of a sight!

Hardened lava is everywhere.
Hardened lava is everywhere.

After some time on Mount Etna, we took the bus back to our ship. I’ve got more pictures in the accompanying Photo Gallery. And a few additional links.

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Photo Gallery: Sicily




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The city of Messina, Sicily
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
The chandelier in the lobby.
The chandelier in the lobby.
An artisan at work.
An artisan at work.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater (on the left). The car park area is on the leftover the lava field. You can see a plume of mist on the left from a steam vent. 
Lots of trails to walk here.
Lots of trails to walk here.
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The Sylvestri Crater immediately in the foreground. 
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The long winding road back down to sea level.
Many vineyards along the way.
Many small towns and vineyards along the way.

 

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Paris: Ooh-la-la!




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Often the unexpected is what makes a vacation truly memorable. And sometimes the unexpected is so out of left field that it cannot be replicated. While we absolutely loved our week in Paris in 2011, one incident stands out as a story we tell over and over again. It is deliciously wicked and if we were to visit Paris twenty more times, I doubt it would ever happen again.

If we had stayed at a different hotel, it wouldn’t have happened. If we had gone down to breakfast a half hour earlier it wouldn’t have happened. But kismet – it happened.

As I recounted in my first post on Paris, we arrived around noon on Sept. 17th. We lugged our baggage onto the train and finally settled in at our hotel, the Tim Hotel at the Place Marcel-Sembat in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

The network of streets outside our hotel window.
The network of streets outside our hotel window.

After spending the rest of the day sightseeing to get an overview of Paris, we had a quick bite and retired for the night. After a good night’s sleep we got up, showered and planned our day – the Palais de Versailles was on our agenda.

Our hotel came with a complimentary continental breakfast so around nine AM we were ready to head downstairs from our third floor room. I was just heading to the door when there was a knock.

“Hmm,” I commented to my wife. “Must be the hotel staff wanting to clean the room. A bit early, don’t you think?” I opened the door.

There, with her hand raised for another knock, was not the maid, but a gorgeous blonde. A stunner. A knockout. Could have been a model or a movie star.

And…she was stark naked! Not a stitch. My jaw dropped. She looked at me, then over at my wife, and said, “Oh! Excusez moi. Wrong room!”

Oh…did I mention that there was a naked man standing just behind her and over to the side a bit? A naked couple. Strangers in the morning.

I closed the door and my wife exclaimed, “What the heck was that?!?!”

“Well,” I replied, “This is Paris!”

We waited a few minutes and then my wife asked if I thought it was safe to go down for breakfast. “Sure,” I said, “Let’s go.”

I opened the door and we ventured out and there, down the hall a bit, were our naked friends, conferring with each other. No doubt trying to figure out what room they were supposed to have gone to. Janis and I decided we’d just casually walk by them and go down to breakfast.

As I walked by her, the woman touched my shoulder. “Excusez-moi, monsieur. Parlez-vous français?”

“Oui. Un peu,” I replied.

“Etes-vous shockée?” she asked. “Are you shocked?”

“Oui. Un peu.”

She then turned to my wife as she put a finger to her lips. “Shhh. Secrète, s’il vous plait,” she said. Please no tell.”

We agreed and went down to breakfast, chuckling and wondering where the heck they stored their clothes. They didn’t even have a handbag. In any event, by the time we finished breakfast and returned to our room, they were nowhere to be seen.

All during our day, spent at the fabulous Palais de Versailles, Janis would ask me, “What are you grinning about?” Five years later it still brings a chuckle. My only regret is I was so stunned I didn’t have the wit to ask my wife to stand with them so I could take a picture.

Paris, of course, is known as being a center of romance and sexuality. And a few days later we visited the Montmartre district. This area in the north of the city on the Right Bank of the Seine could be called the district of the sacred and the profane. At the top of the Mont Martre is the Basilica de Sacré Coeur. The streets below are a warren of cafés, shops and the night club district. The most prominent venue is the famous Moulin Rouge.

We stopped by the Moulin Rouge to book tickets and discovered that they were sold out about a week ahead. We were heading to Rome to board a Mediterranean cruise two days later and flying back to Paris on Oct. 2nd to catch a plane back to Canada the next day, so we booked tickets for the last show on the 2nd – the 11 PM show.

The Moulin Rouge at night
The Moulin Rouge at night

We had no idea of what to expect. But we had seen the Baz Luhrmann movie starring Nicole Kidman and we expected no less. We were not disappointed.

Crowd waiting to go into the Moulin Rouge show, Féerie
Crowd waiting to go into the Moulin Rouge show, Féerie

The venue is an intimate one. Only 800 seats and all of them at tables with white table cloths and a candle in a red jar. Food and drink are available before the show starts but there is no service during the show. We bought a bottle of wine which lasted to the end of the show.

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You’re not supposed to take pictures but I managed to snap one through an open door after the show.  Every seat is a good seat in this intimate venue as all the rows of tables are tiered.

The show opens with all of the cast on stage in a huge song and dance number. There are both male and female singers and dancers including the 60 fabulous Doriss Girls. I can’t remember how long the show was, but probably close to two hours. It went through several different sets and themes including a pirate theme, a circus theme and a history of the Moulin Rouge theme.

The colorful costumes are amazing in themselves. Feathers, fancy headgear and tear-away clothes. Many numbers featured the Doriss girls ripping their tops off and going topless.

Toplessness is taken as a matter of course in Paris. Children as young as six can attend a show at the Moulin Rouge and they offer a discount for children under twelve.

Indeed there is much to amuse children. The circus part of the show includes six miniature horses on the stage. And they have special guest performers. Two very talented acrobats exhibited both skill and strength and there was a comedian as well who performed in pantomime. There were also singers, sometimes with accompanying dancers, sometimes without.

One of the more spectacular parts of the show occurred about halfway through. The stage was cleared and the floor rolled back. Then up from the floor rose a huge glass tank. Inside was an anaconda.

To much fanfare a young woman was carried onto the stage in a Roman litter. She got up and climbed some steps to the top of the tank. The topless woman then dove into the tank and wrestled the snake. An unbelievable spectacle. Sure beat anything Nicole Kidman did in the movie!

The finale of the show was the can-can done up in grand style with a full chorus line of dancers in exotic costumes. My description doesn’t do it justice, nor does the five minute promotional video at the Moulin Rouge website. But it will give you a flavor, not only of the show, but of the venue itself. Janis and I would definitely see it again. It is better than any show we’ve seen in Las Vegas.

When the show ended, we had an usher take a picture of us by the doors. Then we sauntered over to the gift shop where we bought a DVD of the show as well as a couple of souvenir posters.

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Janis and I at the doors to the Moulin Rouge showroom after the show. They have a dress code and all tickets are reserved seating.

The Moulin Rouge has been around for over a century and classic posters captured the changing shows. Each runs for a decade or more. The current show, Feérie, has been running since December 23, 1999. The two posters we bought were for the first show featuring the Doriss Girls in 1963 and the current how, Féerie. We have them hanging in our bedroom which has a Parisian theme. (What can I say – we just loved Paris!)

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The two Moulin Rouge posters we bought now hang over our bed. We also bought an Eiffel Tower duvet cover. Yep! We ❤ Paris!

After leaving the Moulin Rouge we had to catch a cab back to our hotel near the airport since the trains  did not run that late. So we needed some cash and set out to find a cash machine. We wandered down Boulevard de Clichy and discovered wall to wall sex shops and strip clubs.

Side by side sex shops on Boulevard de Clichy just down the street from the Moulin Rouge.
Side by side sex shops on Boulevard de Clichy just down the street from the Moulin Rouge.
The Sexodrome - an adult supermarket
The Sexodrome – an adult supermarket

Needless to say, we didn’t enter any of these places. We doubled back and finally found an ATM near the Moulin Rouge. But one friend at work says he visited a strip club in the area once and the bouncers strong-arm you into buying a lap dance. He did not recommend it unless that was what you were looking for.

The next morning we flew back to Vancouver. Our last little excursion to the Moulin Rouge just hours before we left was one of the highlights of our trip. It’s a bit ironic that two of our favorite memories of that trip were our first morning, the naked strangers, and our last evening, the Moulin Rouge. Both a bit racier than our usual entertainment, but absolutely memorable.




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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: Paris Overview

Here are some more picture of my overview of Paris. In later post I will be looking at specific locales in more detail.

The network of streets outside our hotel window.
The network of streets outside our hotel window. This is the Place Marcel-Sembat in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.
Our hotel, a triangular building wedged between tow of the streets converging on Place Marcel-Sembat, had the smallest elevator we had ever seen.
Our hotel, a triangular building wedged between tow of the streets converging on Place Marcel-Sembat, had the smallest elevator we had ever seen.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the edge of the Trocadero Plaza.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the edge of the Trocadero Plaza. The pool directly in front is part of the Trocadero Gardens. After that is the Pont d’Léna, then the Eiffel Tower. behind the tower is the Champs de Mars, another large garden space.
Looking up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe.
Looking up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe.
La Grand Palais
La Grand Palais
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Quadrigas, a sculpture by Georges Recipon, forms a stunning ornament for La Grand Palais.
One of several smaller gardens along the Champs Elysées
One of several smaller gardens along the Champs Elysées
The Denon wing of the Louvre seen from the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Denon wing of the Louvre seen from the Jardin des Tuileries.
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Le Centaure Nessus Enlevant Dejanire, a sculpture in Jardins des Tuileries.
Never could find out what this unusual cylindrical sculpture is. Itès at the round pool in the Jardin des Tuileries.
Never could find out what this unusual cylindrical sculpture is. It’s at the round pool in the Jardin des Tuileries.
The glass pyramid at the Louvre.
The glass pyramid at the Louvre.
The Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge.

 

A Snug Little Harbor




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Chania, Crete was our fourth and final port of call on our Mediterranean cruise in 2011. As is always the case with cruises, there were a variety of excursions available, but we opted to explore on our own. We do this in about half of our ports of call and always come away with a satisfying experience.

In this case, a complimentary bus took us from the cruise ship terminal to the old town of Chania. It is Crete’s second largest city. Along with its Greek influence, there are elements of Venetian and Turkish heritage in Chania, most notably in its cozy little harbor.

A moderate sized bay is partly enclosed by a long breakwater which is covered by stone wall and a walkway. At the end of the breakwater is the famous Venetian styled Chania Lighthouse.

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The iconic Chania Lighthouse

The bus drops you off at a few streets away from the harbor and you first make your way through a lively area filled with shops selling local wares and souvenirs.

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Bustling shops in Chania

Heading towards the waterfront, we passed an old church. And then we arrived at the bay. A broad walkway edges the semi-circular bay, with colorful shops and restaurants everywhere.

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Shops and restaurants line the bay.

We walked along the path to our left taking us to the one end of the bay. Across the narrow gap of water stood the lighthouse. Behind us were the remnants of an ancient Venetian fort and a large red brick building, the Nautical Museum.

The bay is accessed by a narrow gap between the western end of the bay and the lighthouse.
The bay is accessed by a narrow gap between the western end of the bay and the lighthouse. The red brick building is the Nautical Museum.

We didn’t visit the museum but walked around the corner and back and then circled the the bay to the harbor and marina. We passed many restaurants and later had lunch at one. A great variety of food is offered and we were amused to see a sign advertising one restaurant’s fare as “cheap and chic”.

Along the way we passed an ancient mosque, a remnant of the Byzantine era. The Mosque of the Janissaries is, in fact, the oldest remaining building on Crete from the Turkish era. It dates from 1645 and stopped being use as a mosque in 1923. Its minaret was destroyed in World War II.

The Mosque of the Janissaries
The Mosque of the Janissaries

We also passed an attractive horse and buggy for hire before we came to the end of the harbor. There we found another maritime museum of sorts, the Chania Sailing Club where they had some artifacts on display and were recreating an ancient ship. I have a pamphlet from this place but it is back in Canada. (I’m in Australia right now) I’ll add additional info if needed when I return in September.

Hania Sailing Club. The building dates from 1607, built during the Venetian era, and was restored in the early 2000s.
Chania Sailing Club. The building dates from 1607, built during the Venetian era, and was restored in the early 2000s. It used to be an arsenal.
Recreation of an ancient sailing ship at the Hania Sailing Club.
Recreation of an ancient sailing ship at the Chania Sailing Club.

We then headed out along the breakwater to the lighthouse, about half a kilometre.

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It’s a half kilometre, a five minute walk, to get to the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. The marina is on the left.

About two-thirds of the way to the lighthouse is an elevated rampart that gives an excellent view of the bay as well as the light house with the Nautical Museum in the background.

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A view of the bay from the rampart two-third of the way along the breakwater to the lighthouse.
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The lighthouse is about 135 yards away with the museum in the background across the water.

Eventually we made our way to the bus stop and the trip back to the cruise ship. We enjoyed our visit to the old town of Chania, a snug little harbor steeped in history and picture perfect. Be sure to check out the additional photos in the gallery linked below. Or scroll on down if you are on the main page.




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Photo Gallery: Chania, Crete




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to Chania, Crete.

Looking down the street toward the bay and harbor of Chania.
Looking down the street toward the bay and harbor of Chania.
Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Greek Orthodox Cathedral
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A statue of some famous Cretan.  The most famous person to hail from Chania is probably world-renowned folk singer Nana Mouskouri.
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The marina on the left with the lighthouse in the distance.
You can rent this horse and buggy for a ride around the scenic old town of Chania.
You can rent this horse and buggy for a ride around the scenic old town of Chania.
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Many restaurants line the walk around the bay.
Did I mention you can get food here that is both cheap and chic?
Did I mention you can get food here that is both cheap and chic?
Inside the Chania Sailing Club
Inside the Chania Sailing Club. A number of artifacts are on display here, including the refracting cover of an old lighthouse lamp.
Janis through the lighthouse lens.
Janis through the lighthouse lens.
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The other side of the Venetian fort at the west end of the bay.
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The lighthouse seen from the west side of the bay.
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The marina and harbor seen from the breakwater
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Looking back at the harbor from the lighthouse.
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The lighthouse at Chania.



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Barcelona: La Rambla and More




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After visiting the Parc Güell, the four of us split paths with the wives opting for shopping and Chris and I deciding to take the Hop On Hop Off and get an overview of the city before meeting the girls later to wander up La Rambla. The Barcelona Bus Turistic has three different routes and we took the western route which took us past the Olympic Stadium as well as the waterfront.  One of the first buildings we passed was the Casa Mila, better known as La Pedrera. This is one of the buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi.

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La Pedrera, designed by Antonio Gaudi and built from 1906-1912

The Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona  in 1992 and many of the buildings and public spaces are a lasting legacy. The Montjuic Communications Tower is in the Olympic Park and was used to transmit television coverage of the games.

The Montjuric Communications Tower is 446 foot tall tower designed as a stylized Olympic runner carrying a torch.
The Montjuric Communications Tower is 446 foot tall tower designed as a stylized runner carrying the Olympic Flame.

The Olympic Stadium is still used and was home to Barcelona’s football team until 2009. Many rock concerts are staged there. It was built in 1927 and completely renovated for the 1992 Olympics.

The Olympic Stadium
The Olympic Stadium

Cable cars run from Montjuic to the waterfront and are very popular though we did not go on them. The bus took us past the waterfront where we got off to explore on our own before meeting the ladies.

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The cable cars offer a great view of the city and the waterfront

Barcelona’s waterfront is amazing. Extensive broad pedestrian paths, many shops and restaurants and a lot of intriguing public art. There is a lot of interesting architecture. One prominent feature is a giant sculture of a fish, El Peix, by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Gehry is also known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

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Broad plazas and interesting architecture abound on the waterfront. The golden fish sculpture is by Canadian designer Frank Gehry.

Another sculpture is of Gambrinus, a giant lobster. It used to be the mascot of a restaurant called Gambrinus. When the restaurant closed down, the city bought and restored the lobster as public art. A right friendly looking chap he is!

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The unusual sculpture of Gambrinus, the giant lobster.

At one end is a large public beach. The Spaniards are not as prudish as some and topless sunbathing is common here.

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Barcelona’s beautiful beach

We walked up the beach and out along the breakwater, stopping to dip our toes in the Mediterranean for the first time. The breakwater is popular with fishermen and just for walking along.

Out on the breakwater
Out on the breakwater

We walked back past the Spanish Natural Gas Company’s building and along the boardwalk to the statue of Christopher Columbus to meet the ladies. Along the way we noticed many parked motorcyles as well as places where you could rent bicycles. Bikes and motorbikes are very popular in Barcelona.

Bicycles for rent!
Bicycles for rent! These are like a ride share program and you have to be a member to use the bikes. You just pick one up from one of the many locations and cycle to another close to where you want to go. Lock it up and pick up a new bike when you’re ready to head back.
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The statue of Christopher Columbus is in a square at one end of La Rambla

The statue is at the end of La Rambla, Barcelona’s famous street market, and the four of us headed out to take in the sights. And sights there were. The street is full of stands selling a myriad of different products. Fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs, to be sure, but also exotic pets – ferrets and hedgehogs, as well as a lot of birds.

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Food stalls on La Rambla
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Exotic pets for sale on La Rambla.

There were also a lot of street entertainers. Very popular are the human statues, people dressed in colourful costumes and posing as statues until someone drops a coin in the hat at which they become quite animated.

A colourful human statue
A colourful human statue

There were also a number of entertainers dressed as popular cartoon or movie characters. We saw one dressed as Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and another as Edward Scissorhands. Drop a coin in Ed’s box and he would pretend to snip your hair.

Finally we got to the end of la Rambla – the Plaça de Catalunya. A number of hotels and other buildings overlook the square, a central meeting place for many. We had dinner at one of the restaurants near here.

Plaça de Catalunya
Plaça de Catalunya

After dinner we wandered around for a while. We wanted to see the Sagrada Familia at night, which we did. Along the way we noticed great crowds outside every pub and bar. The local football team was playing their great rivals, Madrid and everyone wanted to catch it on television. The home team won and Barcelona became a sea of honking vehicles and flag-waving crowds. A fitting end to our last day in Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia at night
Sagrada Familia at night

We loved Barcelona and it is definitely on our list of cities to visit again!

Click on the Photo Gallery link below for more pictures, or just scroll on down if you are on the main page.




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