Fenton & White Go East Part 2

On our second day in Montreal we started with a  morning jacuzzi in that big tub in our room, then made our way down to the restaurant for our free hot breakfast.  Our train to Halifax didn’t leave until early in the evening and we didn’t want to carry our bags around all day.  Fortunately, the hotel offered a free luggage storage service so we checked out and left our bags behind.  The plan was to meet up with Kevin, wander the streets, eat good food and check out the some of the local sights.

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OLD MONTREAL IS FILLED WITH CHARM

Walking around Old Montreal brought back a lot of memories.  We went past Club Soda where I had played the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival over 20 years ago as a side man with a sketch troupe called Skippy’s Rangers.

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WALKING PAST VENUES FROM 20 YEARS PAST BROUGHT BACK GOOD MEMORIES

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ENROUTE TO THE MUSEUM, WE TRAVELED THROUGH THE UNDERGROUND TUNNELS THAT PROTECT RESIDENTS FROM THE CHILL IN THE WINTER.  THIS IS THE DESJARDINS CENTRE … A SHOPPING COMPLEX AND BUSINESS TOWER.

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KEVIN OLSON WAS OUR GUIDE TO MONTREAL FOR THE DAY … HE’S ALSO A GREAT STAGE MANAGER

We made our way to the  Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art., where we met Kevin and explored a range of truly thought provoking exhibits over the course of a few hours. It is hard to encapsulate all that we saw, but below are a few compelling images.  Some of the most powerful work was by Teresa Margolles whose work focuses on border towns in Mexico where the promise of a better life has slowly eroded due to crime and corrupt government.  During the present political tensions between the U.S. and Mexico, the installations were particularly powerful.

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THE MATERIALS FOR THIS PIECE ARE MADE UP OF THE THE HOME OF A RESIDENT IN A SMALL TOWN

The installation above is called The Promise and is made up of materials from a house that was knocked down in a town called Ciadad Juarez.  Once filled with hope and promise,  the town ultimately has become a place where there is violence and corruption.  The materials for the exhibit are transported to each museum, mixed with water and compressed into a long rectangular block.  Each day for one hour, a team of people come and slowly scrape away at the block, spreading the debris to indicate the diminishing lives of the residents and the broken promises of a solid life by the government.  By the end of the run of this exhibit, the block will be gone and the room will be strewn with pebbles and rubble.

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THE THEME OF MANY OF THE WORKS BY OTHER ARTISTS WAS SOCIETY IN TIMES OF WAR

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PETE EXPLORES THE CONTENTS OF GLOWING BARRELS FILLED WITH WATER

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THE GLOW IS CAUSED BY VIDEO IMAGES IN BLACK AND WHITE OF PEOPLE SLEEPING

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WHEN SEEN UNDERWATER … IT IS A DISTURBING JUXTAPOSITION

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SURREAL SCULPTURES MAKE UP A PORTION OF THE EXHIBITS

After looking at the art for a few hours, it was time to go and get some food.  Kevin took us on a walking tour of his favourite neighbourhoods in Montreal and we wound up at The Main, a favoured deli for smoked meat sandwiches.  Frome there we moved  onward to a fine coffee shop and then to a bakery for Portugese tarts.

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PORTUGESE TARTS ARE FILLED WITH A RICH CUSTARD.  A DELICIOUS TREAT

We had walked almost to the base of Mount Royal by this time.  It was mid-afternoon, and we started our walk back towards the hotel, but we had one final stop before picking up our luggage and bidding Kevin farewell.

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MARY QUEEN OF THE WORLD IS A SPECTACULAR CATHEDRAL IN MONTREAL

On previous trips, we had been to see Notre Dame Cathedral, but we found another Cathedral that is much quieter, a little less known, and in our opinion, equally beautiful.  Instead of the hues of blue that Notre Dame is known for, Mary Queen Of The World Cathedral is painted in a light green shade.  It is immense.  Walking around the space is a humbling reminder that in Quebec, the Catholic faith is still going strong.  We were told that on Sundays, the church is full every week.  Visiting on a weekday, it was a peaceful respite from the chilly outside where one could sit and reflect in silence.

We finished our visit, made our way back to our hotel, bid Kevin goodbye and made our way to the train station.  It was time to start our journey to Halifax.

 Tomorrow … riding the rails through a snowy night.

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FENTON & WHITE

 

Fenton & White Go East Part 1

This blog has been slightly delayed because of a very busy schedule.   Over the next few days I’ll try and get out some photos from our East Coast adventure.  I’ve added links (underlined in blue) so you can find out more about the places we’ve been and the places we are going. The focus over the upcoming weeks will be putting up our show Newfoundland Mary in Calgary at Lunchbox Theatre .  Until then, here is a snapshot of our trip from Toronto to Halifax on the train.  The trip was taken in two parts.  On Tuesday March 21st we headed to Montreal to visit friends and take in a theatre festival.  It is a pleasant 5 hour trip.

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EVERY FENTON & WHITE JOURNEY BEGINS WITH A COFFEE

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THE SUN SHONE BRIGHTLY AS WE PULLED AWAY FROM UNION STATION IN TORONTO AT 9 AM

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AS WE HEADED OUT OF TORONTO, WE CROSSED THE DON RIVER AND WAVED FAREWELL TO OUR CONDO WHICH  IS VISIBLE IN THE DISTANCE

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WITHIN A SHORT TIME, GORGEOUS VIEWS OF LAKE ONTARIO OPEN UP ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE TRAIN.

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ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE TRAIN THE SCENERY IS GENTLY ROLLING FARM LAND

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WE TRAVELED ECONOMY ON THIS LEG OF THE JOURNEY AND AT THE HALF-WAY MARK, ORDERED A BOXED LUNCH WHICH WAS VERY TASTY.

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AT AROUND 2:30 IN THE AFTERNOON WE CROSSED THE ST. LAURENCE RIVER AND PULLED INTO MONTREAL

I know a lot of people use bargain sites, such as Trivago to shop and compare, but we have still found cheaper rates on Hotwire at the last minute.  In order to get the best deal, you choose an area of the city you are visiting and a star rating.  The name of the hotel is blocked until after you book, and you have to pre-pay your reservation.  Using this method, we got a four star room a 10 minute walk from the train station and a 2 minute walk from Old Montreal for $127 Canadian.  This rate included all taxes and a hot breakfast in the morning.  We wound up staying at the Embassy Suites, and it was a terrific deal.  Below are a few shots of the suite.

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THE KITCHEN WAS LARGE WITH A NICE CALIFORNIA BAR

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THE LIVING ROOM HAD A LARGE TV, A NICE DESK AND ENOUGH ROOM TO ENTERTAIN

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POCKET DOORS ON THE BEDROOM AREA ALLOWED YOU TO CLOSE OFF THE BEDROOM IF YOU HAVE COMPANY OVER

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THE BATHROOM HAD A JACUZZI TUB WITH A STAND-UP SHOWER IN THE CORNER

Our evening plans were to go for dinner, meet up with my stage manager from the Becoming Carol tour (Kevin Olson) and then go and see the play Jabber as part of the Geordie Theatre Festival.  We wound up at the Le Saint-Bock microbrewery at 1749 St. Denis Street. If you click the link above, you will see the beer menu.  We tried a fine cognac beer with a marshmallow in it.  And the food was pretty spectacular too.  I was recommended to a variation on poutine that had fries and curds, but was dressed with meats and peppers and a light gravy.  It was tasty.

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A TASTY VARIATION ON POUTINE AT LE SAINT BOCK

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THEN IT WAS ON TO SEE THE SHOW … WHICH WAS TRULY FANTASTIC

After the show, we had time to catch up with Haylee Tucker our former assistant stage manager from our show Bemused which played Theatre Northwest a few years ago.  She is studying at the National Theatre School right now.   And then it was off to bed.

Tomorrow … exploring Montreal’s museums, food and culture.

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FENTON & WHITE GIVE THEIR FIRST DAY IN MONTREAL A THUMBS UP

 

Au revoir Arras

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LOOKING OUT AT THE PLATFORMS OF GARE DU NORD

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The final day of our trip was another journey out of town. We were heading to Arras, a town approximately 180 kilometres north of Paris.  We walked to Gare du Nord train station and got ourselves some breakfast, before boarding the high speed train which would put us in Arras just over one hour later. From there, we took a cab to Vimy Ridge (as seen in our Remembrance Day blog on November 11th).

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THE TOWN OF ARRAS HAS A CHARMING CENTRAL SQUARE THAT IS OFTEN FILLED WITH VENDOR STALLS

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I will skip past our trip to Vimy Ridge as it is covered already,  and pick up after we were driven back into town at a little after 1 in the afternoon.  The morning markets were just clearing away so we decided to find a place to eat.  We settled on a restaurant off the main square that offered mulled apple cider and a galette … a buckwheat crepe with a filling.  We chose one that included ham, emmental cheese and an egg on top.

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A GALETTE IS A TASTY BUCKWHEAT CREPE

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SAUNTERING AROUND THE TOWN OF ARRAS WE DISCOVERED MANY LOVELY BUILDINGS

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Arras is popular with tourists due to the wonderful architecture, the medieval caves that honeycomb the chalk foundations below the streets, and its history connected to being close to the front in World War I.

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THE TOWN HALL NOW ACTS AS THE INFORMATION CENTRE

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We made our way to the information centre and discovered that we could do a tour of the chalk caves beneath the streets, climb the bell tower, or take other tours of the war monuments and graveyards in the vicinity.  We only had a few hours, so we started by taking the elevator to the top of the bell tower and climbed the 40 stairs (on a wobbly spiral staircase that involved looking straight down to get your footing) to the outer viewing platform.

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THERE IS A NICE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE ARRAS BELL TOWER

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By chance, we ran into a stage manager I had worked with, and we climbed the tower together.  The picture below is Virginia and I expressing delight and surprise at our chance meeting.

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COLLEAGUES REUNITE 6000 MILES AWAY FROM TORONTO

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After climbing back down those 40 stairs, (even scarier on the way down) and then taking the elevator to the ground floor, we explored the various exhibits, including these grand puppets which are used in summer and winter festivities.  They were very, very tall!

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SCOTT CAN’T BELIEVE HOW BIG THESE PUPPETS ARE!

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We booked a tour of the Wellington Quarry, which is an area of the tunnels where the New Zealand Army Corp made a name for itself digging through the chalk at record speeds to help the British secure Arras during World War 1.  The quarry dates back many hundreds of years earlier, when it was mined for the chalk.  These caves provided the starting point for the allied forces to tunnel in under the enemy front lines during World War I, and were used for bomb shelters in World War II.  The streets beneath Arras are pocketed with caves.

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THIS MEMORIAL WALL BESIDE THE WELLINGTON QUARRIES IS INSCRIBED WITH THE NAMES OF LOCALS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE WAR

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PETE LOOKS AT THE VARIOUS EXHIBITS INCLUDING SHELLS AND MORTARS.  THE CANADIAN FLAG FLIES ALONG WITH OTHER FLAGS OF NATIONS THAT FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I IN ARRAS

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THIS EXHIBIT SHOWED WHAT A FRENCH SOLDIER WOULD BE GIVEN AT THE START OF A YEAR INCLUDING A PISTOL, THERMAL GLOVES AND A GAS MASK

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IN ORDER TO ENTER THE CAVES YOU MUST WEAR A HELMET TO AVOID BUMPING YOUR HEAD AND AVOIDING DRIPS FROM THE ROOF.  THE YELLOW DEVICE AROUND PETE’S NECK CONNECTS TO THE HEADSET FOR THE AUDIO FOR THE TOUR.

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The tour of the Wellington Quarries was fascinating.  A bilingual guide took us 60 feet underground in an elevator, and then led us from cave to cave along a dimly lit boardwalk on a 1 kilometre round-trip journey.  At various points along the route, the headset you are wearing has a GPS and connects into audio that matches video screens that have been mounted into the caves and show film clips depicting the lives of the soldiers during the war.

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THE GREEN GLOW ON THE CHESTS OF THESE VISITORS MEANS THEY ARE WITHIN RECEIVING RANGE OF THE NEXT AUDIO SECTION OF THE TOUR.  WHEN IT IS RED, YOU MUST MOVE CLOSER TO THE GUIDE UNTIL IT TURNS GREEN AND THEN YOU CAN HEAR HER (OR THE AUDIO FOR THE VIDEOS) CLEARLY

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THESE MARKINGS HELPED TO ENSURE THE SOLDIERS DIDN’T GET LOST IN THE MAZE OF CAVES AND TUNNELS

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THE CAVES EXTEND MANY MILES

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THESE DRAWINGS (DONE BY SOLDIERS TO PASS THE TIME), HAVE BEEN PROTECTED WITH MESH.  THEY ARE MODERN CAVE DRAWINGS

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AT VARIOUS POINTS IN THE TOUR, VIDEO SCREENS COME TO LIFE WITH HISTORICAL INFORMATION ON THE SOLDIERS’ LIVES AND THE WAR

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OUR GUIDE EXPLAINS HOW THE WATER SYSTEM IN THE CAVES WORKED.  THE SQUARE PANEL ABOVE IS A MIRROR THAT IS REFLECTING THE DEEP (AND VERY COLD) POOL OF WATER BENEATH IT.

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EXIT TEN WAS AN IMPORTANT ROUTE TO THE SURFACE WHERE SOLDIERS WOULD LEAVE THE TUNNELS TO FIGHT …  MANY LOSING THEIR LIVES

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The tour of the quarries took about 45 minutes in total.  It was fascinating and was very reasonably priced at 6.90 Euros.  After we surfaced, we walked back to the town and wandered the streets.  In the winter months, Arras would look lovely with the narrow streets lit up with lights above and the shop windows filled with displays.

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SHOPPING IS A GREAT WAY TO SPEND SOME TIME IN ARRAS

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We caught a late afternoon train back to Paris and made our way back to our hotel.  We would be packing tonight, and tomorrow flying back to Toronto.  It all seemed like it had been an amazing dream.

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WE ARRIVED BACK IN PARIS AROUND 7:10 PM

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We finished our trip off with a visit to a Montmartre restaurant called Autour de Midi et Minuit, where we had a french meal drenched in butter with some lovely white wine, and ended with a fine apple dessert with the slices arranged in a gorgeous flower pattern with cinnamon and … more butter.  And then we headed downstairs to hear a jam session featuring a jazz player that Pete’s cousin knew of.  His name is Olivier Lancelot … a terrific stride piano player.  The evening was a loose jam session featuring local musicians, and the location was perfect for jazz … a basement room called … the cave 

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OUR TRIP FINISHED WITH A LITTLE JAZZ IN THE CAVE AT AUTOUR DE MIDI ET MINUIT

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Then, it was time to go home and rest.  We left Toronto on the night of Monday October 3rd and flew home mid-afternoon on the 13th of October.  We had traveled over 6000 kilometres by plane and visited the iconic sites of Paris, taken trips to Arras and Vimy Ridge, Versailles and Mont-Saint-Michel, as well as sampling the fine cuisine of too many french restaurants to name.  It was truly a trip of a lifetime.  On the morning of the 13th, we checked out of our room and waited for our shuttle to take us to the airport.  It was time to bid Paris a fond farewell.

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FENTON & WHITE WAIT FOR THE SHUTTLE TO TAKE THEM TO THE AIRPORT

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We hope you have enjoyed coming along with us on our trip as an armchair traveler.  If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.  Our next travels will be connected to work in Calgary in the spring of 2017.    Wherever you are reading this blog, may it inspire you to make the most of life, to travel, and to learn about other cultures.  Until next time (which will be our monthly arts blog), we bid you a fond au revoir.

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Fenton & White

 

 

Climbing The Eiffel Tower

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CLIMBING THE EIFFEL TOWER IS FUN AND THE VIEWS ARE SPECTACULAR

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The Eiffel Tower was constructed between 1887 and 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.  It is not the tallest tower in the world, but at 324 metres it still makes an impression.  And of course, this tower is unique, made up of wrought iron lattice work that lets the breeze blow through without making the tower sway … well, not too much.   It is a wonder of engineering.

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SECURITY IS TIGHT AROUND THE EIFFEL TOWER

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When you arrive, you must go through metal detectors and a security screening to access the area beneath the tower.  Bags are searched and put through X-ray scanners.  These line-ups can take some time to navigate, although on a Tuesday afternoon in October the crowds were small and we were through security fairly quickly.

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LINE-UPS CAN STRETCH FOR A LONG WAYS IF YOU DON’T PLAN AHEAD

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During peak months in the summer, it is strongly advised that you go to the website and reserve your tickets in advance at  http://www.toureiffel.paris/en.html . This will help you get through security faster and avoid lining up for hours to get to the top.  Another way to skip the lines is to make a reservation at one of the restaurants, which have their own elevators to take you to the first and second level of the tower.  The prices for these restaurants are nearly as high as the tower itself, but if you are willing to spend more, you can get a truly unique experience.

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THE EIFFEL TOWER HAS THREE MAIN LEVELS FOR TOURISTS.   THIS IS THE VIEW LOOKING UP FROM THE SECOND LEVEL TO THE TOP

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There are three levels to the tower.  The first and second level can be accessed either by climbing the stairs (which is a cheaper option, and very interesting to do), or by an elevator that is on a rail … in essence, a very steep funicular.

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THE LOWER ELEVATOR TO THE FIRST AND SECOND LEVEL GOES UP AT AN ANGLE

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The lower elevators each ride up one of the legs of the tower at a bit of an angle.  The carriage of the elevator is angled so that the patrons inside stay level.  Both the first and second levels are included in one admission ticket.  If you look at the top picture of this blog, you will see level one is just above the first arch and level two is where the base meets the upper tower.

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WE CHOSE TO CLIMB THE STAIRS

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The climb from the ground to the first and second level of the Eiffel tower has many advantages. It is slightly cheaper.  There is hardly any line-up at all, so you can get up the tower faster.  You are not crammed into a tightly packed elevator with a lot of other people.  But most importantly, it gives you a greater sense of how the tower was built.  The section from the ground to the first level takes around 15 minutes and keeps you fairly central in the legs of the tower. The stairs are caged in for safety.

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PETE APPROACHES THE TOP OF ONE OF THE SETS OF STAIRS WHILE CLIMBING THE EIFFEL TOWER

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LOOKING DOWN AS WE CLIMB THE LOWER PART OF THE EIFFEL TOWER

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WHEN YOU REACH THE FIRST LEVEL, LOVELY VIEWS OPEN UP

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The first floor features a restaurant, and shops around the perimeter, but the first and second levels don’t have a floor that stretches all the way across.  The centre of the tower has a huge rectangular hole.

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LOOKING UP AT THE FIRST LEVEL, THE INNER PART OF THE TOWER IS AN OPEN SPACE.  IN THE WINTER, THEY COVER THIS SPACE WITH A SKATING RINK

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 The first level also has a glass floor that sneaks out in curved sections on the perimeter of the hole in the centre.  I didn’t have the nerve to stand on it, but Pete did.  He said he was fine, as long as he didn’t look down.

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PETE STANDS ON THE GLASS FLOOR ON THE FIRST LEVEL.

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We still had more stairs to climb.  The total climb from the ground to the second level is 704 stairs.

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THIS WAY TO LEVEL TWO

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THE STAIRS BETWEEN THE FIRST AND SECOND LEVEL TAKE YOU HIGHER UP AND CLOSER TO THE EDGE OF THE TOWER

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AND THE VIEWS GET EVEN BETTER

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So is it worth it to go to the very top?  Well, if you have paid to walk up the stairs of the tower, your ticket only covers the cost of going to the 2nd level.  People who choose to ride the elevator can also buy a cheaper ticket to ride only to the 2nd level.  If you want to go to the very top,  you either purchase a ticket that includes all three levels at the base … or, you wait and see how crowded the lines are and pay an extra 6 euros to go to the top when you get to the second level. The combined cost of walking up to the second level and the elevator to the top was still cheaper than the combined ticket to take the two sets of elevators from the base to the very top.  Many tourists only go to the 2nd level. We decided to get as high as we could.

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GOING UP THE ELEVATORS TO THE TOP IS AN ADRENALINE RUSH

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The upper elevators are square boxes with sliding doors on two sides for entry and exit.  They fit about 20 people each and go straight up the centre of the tower.  As you climb, there is less and less of the grid work of the tower around you, and more open space … and the elevators have glass walls.  The top of the ride only puts you 906 feet above the ground, but when you are in those elevators being lifted by a single cable above you … well,   it is  exciting.

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AS YOU RIDE THE ELEVATOR, THERE ISN’T MUCH METAL BESIDE YOU ANYMORE

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THERE’S ALWAYS CHAMPAGNE AT THE TOP TO TAKE THE EDGE OFF AFTER YOUR RIDE TO THE TOP

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For those wanting a drink at the top, small glasses of champagne can be purchased for 13 euros.

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THIS SIGN COMPARES TOWERS AROUND THE WORLD … THERE’S TORONTO’S CN TOWER OVER 6000 KILOMETRES AWAY

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THE VIEWS FROM THE TOP ARE MAGNIFICENT

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GUSTAV EIFFEL ACTUALLY HAD AN APARTMENT AT THE TOP OF THE TOWER.  THIS EXHIBIT SHOWS A MEETING WITH THOMAS EDISON THAT WAS REPORTED TO HAVE TAKEN PLACE IN 1889 IN THE STUDY.  HOW AMAZING WOULD IT BE TO LIVE AT THE TOP OF THE TOWER?

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TIME TO DESCEND BACK TO EARTH

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After spending 20 minutes at the top both on the inside and outside, we made our way back to the central elevators and rode down to level 2.  Passage on the elevators going down is free, even if you only paid the rate to climb the stairs, so we rode the funicular style elevators all the way down to the ground.  The Eiffel tower is grand to look at from afar, but it is amazing to walk up, and even more exciting to take that ride up to the top.

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Tomorrow … our final adventures in France … the town of Arras

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Fenton & White 

 

 

Tunnels of Bones And Tributes At Tombs

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GOING INTO THE CATACOMBS OF PARIS MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYONE

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We had only a few days left in Paris and on Tuesday we decided to crisscross the city to see a few of the locations that weren’t on the Museum Pass (which had expired anyway).  Today’s blog is devoted to two of those three sites; the Catacombs of Paris and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.    I want to put a bit of a warning on today’s blog … although there is no graphic content, some of these photos are of bones … the true remains of people who were once living and breathing.  If that bothers you, perhaps skim past to the lower section of this post, where we paid  homage at the monuments  of Pere Lachaise to some of the people who had been laid to rest in a more dignified manner.

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ARRIVING EARLY AT THE CATACOMBS IS ESSENTIAL UNLESS YOU HAVE A RESERVATION

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The Catacombs of Paris are a decidedly strange attraction.  The entrance at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy could be easily bypassed were it not for the line which forms early in the morning.  While it is possible to go to the official web site and book tickets in advance, the cost of a reserved time is considerably more.  If you book a tour, be aware that the tour cost doesn’t include the admission fee to the Catacombs as these tours are done by an outside company.  For us, we were simply curious to see the stacked bones in traditional ornamental fashion.  We hadn’t really thought much past that.

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THIS IS OUR SPOT IN LINE ARRIVING AT 9:00 AM.  THE ENTRANCE IS AROUND THE CORNER.

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We arrived at a restaurant across the street at about 8:00 AM and had a leisurely breakfast (our first American style breakfast of our trip with bacon, sausage and eggs), and at 9:00 AM we joined the line for the opening 60 minutes later.  Even after the site opened, they only let 20 people in at a time to space out the visitors, and while that is happening, tours and people with timed tickets can go in ahead of you.  If you arrive later than 10:30, a wait of 3 to 4 hours to get in is not uncommon, so arriving early is a good strategy if you haven’t booked a reserved time. To look at the various prices, go to the official web site at http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/

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AT FIRST, HEADING DOWN INTO THE UNDERGROUND WORLD SEEMED FUN

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After going past the entrance door, we paid our admission and headed down a curved set of stairs that takes you 60 feet underground.

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THE ROOF GETS LOWER AND THE LIGHT STARTS TO GET A LITTLE DIMMER

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Once you reach the lower tunnels, you begin the walk through stone-lined paths in fairly well lit conditions, but as you continue on, the tunnels get narrower and the light gets dimmer.  The path that you take will cover 1.5 kilometres, and this is not a circle route.  In fact, when you exit the Catacombs you come out at 36 Rue Remy Dumoncel almost a half a kilometre away from where you entered .  This is useful to know so you can orient yourself to your next destination after you have left the tunnels below.

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THE TUNNELS ARE DAMP AND LONG

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After walking for about a half a kilometre, you come to the entry to the ossuary for the bones.  In the late 1700s, the cemeteries of Paris were overcrowded, and there was simply no place left to bury more people.  There is a complicated history, but the short story is that burial grounds in central Paris were condemned, and it was decided that the best solution was to exhume the bones of those buried over the past 1200 years from the six central cemeteries, and place them in an ossuary in the catacombs, stacking the bones in a ceremonial fashion.  The Catacombs Of Paris Ossuary now houses the remains of over 6 million people.  What you are about to walk through is … people … stacked side by side, on top of one another, with various bones from their bodies scattered in crypts, vaults and along passageways.

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paris-2016-1208 THIS SIGN READS YOU ARE INVITED NOT TO TOUCH ANYTHING, AND THERE IS NO SMOKING IN THE OSSUARY

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When you enter and exit the tunnels, you are searched.  Believe it or not, visitors in the past have removed a human skull to take as a souvenir.

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INITIALLY THE PATTERNS ARE AMAZING.  THE WALLS ARE PILED FROM FLOOR TO CEILING WITH BONES, THE LONG BONES STACKED SUPPORTING THE SKULLS IN ROWS

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COLUMNS OF BONES CAN BE FOUND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATHS

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So here’s the thing about doing this walk.  After a short time, it sets in that these were real people.  The skulls show unique features through the eyes and jaws, and you realize, I paid money to stare at the bones of real people.  It starts getting a bit … macabre.

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SOME OF THE VAULTS ARE NOT SO NEATLY STACKED AND GO BACK OVER 75 FEET

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Eventually it becomes overwhelming, and you come to areas that are literally piles of bones tossed into an area.

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LONG BONES STACKED ON TOP OF ONE ANOTHER

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We started taking pictures for the first 15 minutes, and then … it just felt … wrong.  We were done with the ossuary, but it wasn’t done with us.  Remember how I said it was a one way passage?  We still had 3/4 of a kilometre to walk to get out … past the remains of millions of people.  We watched as people posed their children beside formations of skulls like it was the entrance to a Disney ride … but it wasn’t.  And now we know … we don’t ever have to go back.  For those with a morbid curiosity, you may find this site of great interest, or perhaps you are an anthropologist with an interest in how the bones were stacked and what you can learn about the individuals from their remains, but for us … we felt uncomfortable and were glad to make it out into the open air.

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AFTER A MORNING UNDERGROUND, IT WAS TIME FOR LUNCH

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We were truly in need of a bite of food and a nice glass of wine and  to make us feel better we added on dessert at this little cafe right near the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

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THE PERE LACHAISE CEMETERY IS LIKE A SMALL CITY

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Unlike our morning adventure, the afternoon trip through the Pere Lachaise Cemetery was very pleasant.  There are walking tours that you can take, but our schedule on this day was sporadic and we decided to try and locate the various tombs and monuments of some of the people we wanted to pay tribute to on our own.  We got a map, and set out on a quest to visit a number of artists we admired.   The cemetery is filled with narrow cobbled streets and literally hundreds of thousands of monuments.   Each numbered section on the above map has anywhere between 500 and several thousand markers.

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THE GATES OF PERE LACHAISE REVEAL LITTLE OF WHAT LIES BEYOND

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IN SOME AREAS, WIDE AVENUES STRETCH OUT BETWEEN THE TOMBS

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IN OTHER AREAS SLOPING PATHWAYS TAKE YOU FROM MONUMENT TO MONUMENT

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TOMBS AND MONUMENTS ARE ALL JUMBLED TOGETHER WHICH MAKES FINDING A PARTICULAR TOMB A CHALLENGE

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We gathered chestnuts that had fallen from the trees near the entrance and vowed that at each tomb we stopped at, we would leave a chestnut as a symbol that the person we were visiting was still thought of;  a gesture of respect and gratitude for what they had contributed to the world.  Below are a few of the resting places we visited.

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SOME GRAVES ARE GROWN OVER AND THE NAME OF THE PERSON BURIED BELOW IS HARD TO DISCOVER

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OTHER MONUMENTS HAVE WORKS OF ART AS PART OF THE TRIBUTE

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CAMILLE PISSARRO THE FAMOUS PAINTER IS BURIED IN A FAMILY PLOT

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THE GREAT FRENCH WRITER MOLIERE HAS A GRANDER TOMB, BUT IS TRICKY TO FIND. MOLIERE WAS HIS STAGE NAME, BUT HIS FAMILY NAME IS JEAN-BAPTISTE POQUELIN

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THE TRIBUTE TO JIM MORRISON IS WELL VISITED

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CHOPIN’S GRAVE IS ELABORATE AND HAS THREE LEVELS

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THE GREAT ACTRESS SARAH BERNHARDT’ S TOMB IS FOUND UNDER A LOW STONE ARCH

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IN THE CENTRE OF THE TRIBUTES YOU CAN SEE ONE OF THE CHESTNUTS WE PLACED AS WE MADE OUR WAY AROUND THE CEMETERY.  THANK YOU SARAH BERNHARDT FOR SHARING YOUR GIFTS WITH THE WORLD

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THE GREAT CHANTEUSE EDITH PIAF IS BURIED WITH HER FAMILY

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THIS SIMPLE GRAVE IS THE RESTING PLACE FOR GETRUDE STEIN AND ALICE B. TOKLAS, WHO ARE BURIED TOGETHER

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THE GRAVE OF OSCAR WILDE WAS BEING DAMAGED BY VISITORS KISSING THE MONUMENT WITH LIPSTICK ON, LEAVING A PRINT.  IT IS NOW SURROUNDED BY PLEXI-GLASS AND IS THE MOST VISITED MONUMENT IN THE CEMETERY

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OTHER MONUMENTS SIMPLY DRAW ONE’S EYE.  WHAT IS THE STORY OF THE PERSON BURIED BELOW?

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SCULPTURES RISE TO THE SKY IN THE SECTION OF THE CEMETERY DEVOTED TO VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST.   THIS IS A MOVING SECTION OF THE CEMETERY, WITH MANY HEART-BREAKING MONUMENTS AND INSCRIPTIONS

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THE COLUMBARIUM HOLDS THE ASHES OF HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN NICHES BOTH ABOVE AND BELOW THE GROUND

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THE GREAT DANCER ISADORA DUNCAN HAS HER ASHES ON THE OUTER PART OF THE COLUMBARIUM

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BELOW GROUND THERE ARE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF NICHES

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Visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery is well worth the time. It is a place to reflect on the lives of the people who are buried here.  It is a chance to see monuments of beauty and pay tribute.  We were particularly glad to stop at Oscar Wilde’s tomb, for his story The Selfish Giant was the inspiration for our musical The Giant’s Garden and we owe him a debt of gratitude for creating that story.   If you have the interest and time and the weather is fair,  several hours at Pere Lachaise makes for a lovely afternoon.  As for us … there was one rather big item left on our agenda.

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Tomorrow … The Eiffel Tower.

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Fenton & White

From Picasso to Pompidou

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GETTING AROUND BY MOTORCYCLE IS VERY POPULAR IN PARIS

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We finished our lunch and headed to the last two museums of our trip.  We were on the 5th day of our 6 day Paris Pass, but the following day was going to be a Monday which meant many museums were closed and we wanted some variety in our schedule.  It truly didn’t matter.  By the time we finished at Pompidou, we had seen 14 attractions using the pass (over 5 days) … and saved a bundle.    The afternoon plan was to do a quick browse through the National Picasso Museum, and then have a relaxing late afternoon at the Centre Pompidou looking at their contemporary art collection.    As we strolled through the Marais, we noted how many people ride motorcycles in Paris.

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THE CENTRAL STAIRS OF THE NATIONAL PICASSO MUSEUM ARE ELEGANT

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On a sunny Sunday afternoon, there was a fair line up to get into Picasso museum.  Of course there was the usual security screening, but after that, our pass put us in a line-up that alternated with patrons who had purchased timed tickets.  It took us about 30 minutes to gain access to the collections.  This museum is one of several Picasso museums around the world, and while the collections are extensive, many of the most famous pieces of work are scattered in major museums elsewhere.  In a way, it is fascinating to see some of Picasso’s lesser known work.

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SOME OF THESE WORKS ARE BY PICASSO, SOME ARE BY GIACOMMETI

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The museum featured an exhibit comparing the work of Giacometti and Picasso.  While it is true that some of the subject matter was the same, the two artists never met. The exhibit clearly identified that although they were aware of each other, it is unlikely they were an artistic influence on one another.  It was a strange exhibit, but still filled with interesting sculptures and paintings.

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PICASSO SEEMED TO HAVE A PASSION FOR GOATS

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OTHER IMAGES FEATURED BRILLIANT COLOURS IN SHAPES THAT LEAD THE EYE MANY DIRECTIONS AT ONCE

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THIS PIECE FASCINATED US … IT WAS CREDITED TO … UNKNOWN … WE’RE STILL NOT SURE WHY IT WAS IN THE PICASSO MUSEUM

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To be truthful, while the collections were interesting, our overall experience of the museum was underwhelming.  Unlike the Musee Rodin with its signature pieces, its lovely gardens and the house in its natural form, the National Picasso Museum feels much more like walking into a gallery building with a lot of white walls and a lot of art.  The labeling of the artwork was confusing and often the text connecting the works was vague and didn’t truly identify the significance of the work.  Thus … the pieces above I have left unlabeled, for we couldn’t find appropriate labels with dates to tag them.  We lasted about 60 minutes … admiring the work, but not particularly finding the building stimulating We headed back out onto the streets.  Perhaps we had reached our museum limit for the trip… or perhaps not.

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ART CAN BE FOUND IN THE STREETS AS WELL

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As we headed towards Centre Pompidou we noticed the above piece painted on a wall.  It is by the artist known only as EZK, and is part of the Art Against Poverty campaign, pairing a picture of an imporverished child against an image of a wealthy company;  in this case Vuitton.  The phrase beside it translates to “In What World Vuitton?” identifying that while companies charge huge prices for luxury items, children in other countries are often making the products for slave wages.

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A SUNDAY STROLL TO CENTRE POMPIDOU

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The weather was ideal, and we were looking forward to our late afternoon gallery stroll.  Centre Pompidou has a large square outside that is filled with buskers.  On the afternoon we were there, a didgeridoo player was entertaining the crowds and a dance troupe was asking for volunteers from the audience.  There was a long line to go through security but it was sunny and warm and the line moved quickly.  We joined the end of the line and were through the doors in 30 minutes.  The galleries were open until 9 PM and we were in no rush.

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paris-2016-984 CENTRE POMPIDOU HAS A MODERN EXTERIOR WITH ESCALATORS THAT TAKE VISITORS UP THE OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING IN GLASS TUBES

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As we entered the main foyer, we oriented ourselves to the galleries.  On the very top floor is a restaurant called Georges that charges an immense fee which is somewhat mitigated by the views and the wait staff, who to our eye, all seemed to have been hired from a modeling agency.  The 5th and 4th floors of the museum have large collections of modern art, and then there is a special collections area which on this particular day was hosting a Magritte exhibit.  We decided to take a pass on the special exhibit due to the lateness of the afternoon (and the line-ups) but decided we would pay the price and enjoy a dessert and coffee at the top of Pompidou on the outside terrace of Georges before seeing more art.

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THE INSIDE OF GEORGES IS STRANGE AND EXOTIC AND EVERY TABLE HAS A REAL LONG-STEMMED ROSE IN A VASE

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THE MALE WAITERS ARE DRESSED IN TUXEDOS AND FEMALE SERVERS IN SWEATER DRESSES … THEY ALL LOOK LIKE MODELS

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THE VIEWS OF PARIS ARE LOVELY FROM GEORGES

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For two coffees and two desserts (which were delicious, but ridiculously overpriced … and we knew it when we sat down, and treated ourselves anyway) it was 40 Euros.  There is a much cheaper cafe on the 2nd floor above the main atrium, but once in a while on holidays, you simply say … let’s do this … and now we can say we have dined at Georges.

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THIS SALVADOR DALI PIECE WAS INTRIGUING.  IT IS CALLED (IN ENGLISH) PARTIAL HALLUCINATION.  SIX IMAGES OF LENIN ON A PIANO

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We loved the collections at Centre Pompidou.  The work was varied, vibrant, encompassed sculpture, painting, mixed-media … all of it with amazing stories contained in the work.  We stayed for 3 hours but would definitely go back and explore more on another trip.

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THE SCULPTURE COURT ON THE 5TH FLOOR

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PETE LOVED THIS JEAN DUBUFFET PAINTING

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THIS WORK LOOKED LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A TIM BURTON MOVIE

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A GIACOMETTI ON A GRAND SCALE, LIT SO THE SHADOW GIVES BODY TO THE WORK

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CREEPY VENTRILOQUIST DUMMIES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE.  YES THAT IS YOKO ONO ON THE FAR RIGHT

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THIS SONIA DELAUNAY PAINTING HAD VIBRANT COLOURS

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EVEN THE VIEWS OUT THE WINDOWS WERE LIKE LIVING ART WORKS

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I could post a lot more pictures, but it was time to make our way back to our hotel.  We were so glad we finished the museums of Paris with Centre Pompidou.  We enjoyed a slow stroll through the Marais and went home for a rest, and then enjoyed a light meal at a cafe in Montmartre.

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THE MARAIS IS FILLED WITH CLUBS AND RESTAURANTS ON NARROW STREETS

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Tomorrow … a trip on a high speed train to Mont-Saint-Michel

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Fenton & White (or in this case … White & Fenton)

Fenton & White Go To The Opera Garnier

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THE FACADE OF THE PALAIS GARNIER ONLY HINTS AT THE SPLENDOUR OF THE INSIDE

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For our Sunday morning excursion, we started with breakfast at a boulangerie with freshly baked pain au chocolat, a strong coffee and some baguette traditional with jam and butter.  Our first stop was the Palais Garnier which houses the opera house that Gaston Leroux made famous in his novel The Phantom Of The Opera.

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PETE WAITS FOR THE TOUR TO START IN THE PAVILLON DES ABONNES

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We opted to take an guided tour in English.  We learned a lot of fascinating things.  Construction began on the building in 1861 and the grand opera house was inaugurated in 1875.  It is an elaborate series of corridors, alcoves and foyers which allows large numbers of people to move freely, come and see the opera, and more importantly, be seen attending the opera.  The Pavillon des Abonnes pictured above was originally an area for subscribers to the opera to gather.  They could come directly from their carriages into the opera house and visit before ascending one of the grand staircases to the performance hall.

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IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY YOU CAN SEE THE LETTERS OF THE ARCHITECT CHARLES GARNIER IN THE SCROLL WORK ABOVE THE PAVILLON

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In December of 1860, Napoleon III put out a notice that there would be a competition to find the architect for a new opera house.  On the tour, the guide showed us drawings of several of the submissions … some grand, some more traditional, but it was Charles Garnier’s Beaux Arts design that won.  Throughout the building the name and image of the architect is cleverly woven into the sculpting and adornments of the floors, walls and ceilings.  In the above picture you can locate (sometimes in reverse) the letters of his name, as well as the year 1875 which was the year the opera house opened.

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AS ONE CLIMBS THE GRAND STAIRCASE, THERE IS A SENSE OF WALKING INTO A PLACE OF WEALTH AND POWER

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The grand foyer is approached by a stairway that features no less than 11 types of marble.  It is lit in a way that makes everything glow, and indeed the shades of marble were meant to provide a neutral enough background that the evening gowns of the women would show off to best effect, but the upper marble had tones of pink that would give warmth to the cheeks  of the attendees to make them look in good health.   Aside from getting facts and details about the space,  the tour also provides access to the orchestra level of seating with the ability to stare straight up towards a certain chandelier that was infamous in Sir Lloyd Weber’s adaptation of The Phantom Of The Opera.  In the musical the chandelier crashed to the stage at each performance.

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THE SEATS IN THE OPERA GARNIER ARE PLUSH AND COMFORTABLE

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Sitting in the opera house, you are surrounded by a sea of red velvet and gold.  Above the main level are the boxes which each have separation walls facing at an angle towards the stage.  They seat 6-8 people each, and in the late 1800s could be rented yearly.  If you rented a box you were given a key that allowed access 24 hours per day for the entire year, regardless of if a performance was happening or not.  These boxes were used for secret meetings, affairs of the heart, and of course,  for attending the opera.

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THE OPERA HOUSE SEATS 1979 PATRONS

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The unusual shape of the partitions between the boxes have resulted in a nick-name … they are known as the bath tubs, for from a distance, it appears that you could fill them with water, and recline into the rear part of the stall, like a giant old-fashioned bath.

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THE CHAGALL FRESCO ON THE CEILING IS CONTROVERSIAL

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The dome of the opera house has a remarkable fresco created by Marc Chagall.  It was unveiled in 1964 and immediately caused controversy.  Many thought it was too modern and bright. The canvas covers 2600 square feet and is in sections that are stretched on frames.  Within the vibrant painting are the names and images of many composers, actors and dancers.  The original fresco from the late 1800s still exists in the dome above the painting, but is badly damaged due to the soot from what was originally candles and then oil in the original chandeliers near the roof.

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THIS CHANDELIER WEIGHS 7 TONS

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While the Gaston Leroux story was a fiction, there were elements of the story that were inspired by true incidents.  While the chandelier has never fallen from the ceiling, in 1896, a counterweight from the chandelier fell from above the dome and through the ceiling and killed a worker.   We were assured that the chandelier is firmly anchored and will not fall.

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THE MOSAIC TILES ON THE FLOOR ARE REMARKABLE

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The artistry of the building is truly stunning.  This is a small corner of a mosaic floor in one small section of the building.  Mosaic floors are abundant, with literally millions of pieces of mosaic used throughout.  But it is when you look up that things get really amazing.

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THIS CEILING IS ENTIRELY MADE UP OF MOSAIC TILES

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One can only imagine how much work went into creating the elaborate patterns of the mosaic roofs in the various foyers of the opera house.  While many of the ceilings have paintings, others have fantastic mosaics in rich colours.

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DISPLAY CASES SHOW OFF SAMPLES OF THE BEAUTIFUL COSTUMES WORN DURING PERFORMANCES

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THIS ROOM RIVALS VERSAILLES FOR EXTRAVAGANCE

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The Grand Foyer features chandeliers, golden columns and ceilings painted by Paul Baudry.  It is a place that fills one with wonder.  The opera house is used over 200 days a year, and attending a concert here must be an extraordinary experience from the time you arrive.

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IN THE CENTRE OF THIS PICTURE (JUST BELOW THE ROOF LINE)  IS A BUST WITH A SILVERY FACE … IT IS CHARLES GARNIER.

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THE VIEW FROM THE TERRACE OUTSIDE THE GRAND FOYER IS QUITE LOVELY

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Our tour of the opera house was capped by going back into the theatre and watching a small segment of a music rehearsal for the mixed dance program that was happening that night.   It was a thrill to note that one of the choreographer/dancers on the bill for the evening was Canada’s own Crystal Pite.  We made our way out onto the streets at around 12:30 and decided it was time to go for lunch.

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ON A WEEKEND THE STREETS ARE FILLED WITH PEOPLE STROLLING CASUALLY ALONG

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We made our way to 24 Rue des Francs Bourgeois to a restaurant called Camille.  The day was warm, the ambiance was perfect with a crowded street to watch, three street performers playing jazz just down from the restaurant, and of course, a glass of wine to get us ready for our lunch.

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THE STREET ALSO HAS COLOURFUL CHARACTERS

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While we waited, this gentleman rode past, and then posed for pictures for free with families and children.

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THESE WERE ENORMOUS SNAILS

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  I ordered an amazing carpaccio dish, while Pete tried the Burgandy snails in garlic and basil butter. After a leisurely lunch it was time to stroll the streets of Paris to our next destination.

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Tomorrow … a tale of two museums.

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Fenton & White