Tag Archives: Paris

Napoleon Bonaparte, Three Ways and Twenty Separate Parts

Napoleon 1

When I was a boy, about ten or so, I used to like to make Airfix model kits.

The little models were mainly heroes from English history but curiously there was a figure of Napoleon included in the range and it was always one of my favourites, probably because he was one of the easiest to put together and to paint.  It is an odd thing but I think that Airfix kit of Napoleon Bonaparte began my interest in French history and why I went on to study the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire at University.

Napoleon Airfix

Other figures in the range were the Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry V, Henry VIII and Charles I and to balance things up there was the regicide Oliver Cromwell.

Napoleon was there but not Hitler or Stalin and alongside him representing France was Joan of Arc.

For some reason Julius Caesar who once invaded England was included but not William The Conqueror.

Airfix Figures

Who was your favourite Airfix figure?

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Travelling – The Grand Tour of Europe

Tourists The Grand Tour of Europe

“…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”  –  Mark Twain

People have always travelled to other parts of the world to see great buildings and works of art, to learn new languages, to experience new cultures and to enjoy different food and drink…

…In 2008 I flew to Athens and in the departure lounge queue behind us was a couple of girls and one announced to the other that ‘I only go on holiday for three things, to get drunk, get stoned and get laid’, I had to see who this person was and when I turned round she turned out to be so unattractive that I was tempted to say ‘Don’t build your hopes up, if I were you I would concentrate on the first two!’ but she was bigger than me so I said nothing of course!

In 1936 the League of Nations defined a foreign tourist as someone travelling abroad for at least twenty-four hours and its successor, the United Nations amended this definition in 1945 by including a maximum stay of six months.  In early 2010 the European Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, unveiled a plan declaring tourism a human right and introduced it with the statement that “travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life.”

Young English elites of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (early Rahs really) often spent two to four years travelling around Europe in an effort to broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography and culture in an experience known as the Grand Tour.

In fact the word tourist has its origins in what used to be more correctly called the Grand Tour of Europe, which was a term first used by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book ‘Voyage or a Complete Journey through Italy’ and after that it came into general usage to describe the travels in Europe of wealthy young men and women in the years of the Enlightenment where it was quite normal to take a gap year (or four) in the quest for a broader education.

Lassels was a Roman Catholic priest and a tutor to several of the English nobility and travelled through Italy five times. In his book, he claims that any truly serious student of architecture, antiquity, and the arts must travel through France and Italy, and suggested that all “young lords” make the Grand Tour in order to understand the political, social, and economic realities of the world.

The Traveller Oviedo Spain

The primary purpose of the Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance and an an introduction to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent.  In addition, before museum collections went on tour themselves,  it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music and it was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.

The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance as the historian E.P. Thompson observed, “ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power.”

While the general objective of the Grand Tour was essentially educational (and this probably what mum and dad thought that they were forking out for) they were also notorious for more frivolous pursuits such as getting hammered, partying heavily and sleeping with as many continental lovelies as possible and so began a tradition that thousands of holiday Brits continue to this day in the party hot-spots of Europe.

When young men on the Grand Tour weren’t misbehaving like people on a stag weekend to Amsterdam they were mostly interested in visiting those cities that were considered the major centres of culture at the time, primarily Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples.

90 Rome

The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend some time in smaller towns and up to several months in the three main cities on the itinerary.  Paris was considered the grandest and most cultured city and was usually first en-route and tourists would rent apartments for several weeks at a time and would make occasional visits to the countryside and adjacent towns.

From Paris, they travelled south either across the Alps or by a ship on the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and then they would pass on to Rome or Venice.  To begin with Rome was initially the southernmost point they would travel to but when excavations began at Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1738 the two sites also became additional major stop-off points.

Other locations sometimes included as part of some Grand Tour included Spain and Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic States. However, these other spots lacked the cultural and historical appeal of Paris and Italy and the substandard roads made travel much more difficult so they were not always the most popular.

Some of them didn’t have vineyards either so I suppose that might have reduced their appeal somewhat.

The British it seems have always been rather keen on travelling abroad and we have left our mark all over Europe (and not just through football violence either) in Nice one of the first and most established holiday resorts on the French Riviera, the long esplanade along the seafront is known to this day as the Promenade des Anglais and in many other historic resorts in continental Europe, old well-established palace hotels have names like the Hotel Bristol, the Hotel Carlton or the Hotel Majestic, reflecting the predominance of English customers.

In fact there are nearly three hundred hotels around the world called Bristol. They take their name from Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, who spent most of his life travelling around Europe enjoying the best hospitality money could buy.  What a good life that would have been, to be sure!

This sort of thing really appeals to me; both the exploration and knowledge and having a really good knees up at the same time and I have become determined to travel as much in Europe as I possibly can. There are forty-six countries in Europe and I have only so far been to twenty-nine so I am just over half way towards my objective of visiting them all.

Ryanair was Europe’s original low fares airline and is my favourite which is lucky for me because the airline has over eleven hundred low fare routes to one hundred and sixty-one destinations in Europe and North Africa.  In the last three years I have flown thirty times at a very reasonable average cost of £40 return all inclusive.

Not all of these flights were with Ryanair of course and I have been forced to use others but I generally find that these work out more expensive.  A return flight to Athens with Easyjet for example costs £120 and my biggest bargain so far was with Ryanair to Santander in Cantabria, Spain at just £10.02 return.  To put things into some sort of perspective it costs over £80 to go to London on the train from Peterborough with National Express and for that you are not even guaranteed a seat.  That is about .90p a mile and on that basis it would cost approximately £1,800 to go to Santander and back by train!

Ryanair over the Alps

In 2015 the most visited country in Europe was France, followed by Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany.  Spain made the most money out or tourist revenues and on average the Germans spent most while away from home.  The most visited city was London (although as usual France disputes the official figures) and the most visited place was Trafalgar Square, followed by the Eiffel Tower and then the Vatican.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which has its headquarters in Madrid, produces the World Tourism Rankings and is a United Nations agency dealing with questions relating to tourism.

For the record I visited Trafalgar Square in 2008, the Eiffel Tower in 2005 and the Vatican in 2003.

European Capital of Culture 1989 – Paris

“Here you have a city with the World’s most pathologically aggressive drivers and you give them an open space (the Arc de Triomphe) where they can all try and go in any one of thirteen different directions at once.  Is that asking for trouble or what?” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here nor there’

In September 2002 my son, Jonathan and I took an early morning flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle for a two night stay in the French capital and a plan to see the main sights in just one day.  After we arrived we took a train into Paris and then the metro to somewhere near to Montmartre where we were staying in the cheapest hotel that I could find.

As we emerged from the metro station the city was only just beginning to stir into life as the street cleaning machines scrubbed the gutters and North African men in high-visibility jackets swished the pavements with their besom brooms removing the dog mess and the litter in preparation for the day.

It was too early to book into our hotel so we left our bags and went straight back to the metro station stopping for only a very short time at a McDonalds restaurant (did I just call it a restaurant?) for a quick breakfast. And then we joined the commuters making their way to work and took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe where we emerged from the subterranean tunnels into a disappointingly misty Champs Élysée.

EPCOT France

The traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe was extremely intimidating.  There are no lanes and none of the usual rules of driving etiquette seemed to apply as hundreds of cars race and weave in and out of each other like dodgem cars at a fairground.

In the nineteenth century after Paris had been destroyed by the Prussian siege in 1870 an architect called Baron Haussemann redesigned Paris with elegant boulevards and long straight roads but although he was a good city planner he wasn’t blessed with foresight because he failed to anticipate the arrival of the motor car and the pathologically aggressive nature of French drivers.

priorité à droite

The French have a mad driving rule called priorité à droite where vehicles from the right always have priority at junctions and roundabouts.  This rule is in fact so ludicrous that even the French themselves have seen the sense of virtually abandoning elsewhere in the country but it remains the rule here at the busiest roundabout in France (probably) and cars entering the circle have the right-of-way whilst those in the circle must yield.  Braking is forbidden and the use of the horn is compulsory, there is no apparent lane discipline that I could make out and entering the roundabout is an extended game of ‘chance’ where drivers simply waited to see whose nerve would fold and who would yield first.

Apparently there is a car accident within the roundabout on average every seven minutes and allegedly there is not a single insurance company in the world that covers accidents within the roundabout. This is the only place in Paris where the accidents are not judged and if there is a prang here, each driver is considered equally at fault. No matter what the circumstances, insurance companies split the costs fifty-fifty.

In France the very desire to own a driving licence should immediately exclude a Frenchman from eligibility to possess one.

Northern France Wissant

We approached the Arch from the Champs Élysée and as far as I could see there was no safe way of crossing and getting to the monument until we eventually found the underground tunnel which took us safely below the traffic chaos above and into the Place de Charles de Gaulle.

We shunned the elevator and climbed the steps instead to the top of the fifty metre high building (the second largest triumphal arch in the World) and enjoyed the views of the boulevards and roads converging and radiating away from this famous landmark.  Close by we could see the Eiffel Tower and this was where we were going next.

The Eiffel Tower is an iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars and has become both a global icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world.  The tower is the tallest building in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world.

Named for its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair.  It is three hundred and twenty-four metres tall, about the same height as an eighty storey high story building.  Upon its completion, it surpassed the Washington Monument to assume the title of tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for forty-one years, until the Chrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930.

France EPCOT

The tower has three levels but we didn’t have time to stand in the queue for the first stage elevator so we took all six hundred steps to the second level and we would have climbed to the very top if we could but the third level is only accessible by an expensive lift.

I guess most people would say that they approve of and like the Eiffel Towere but it wasn’t always so.  After it was built the author Guy de Maupassant hated it so much that he often ate lunch in the tower’s second floor restaurant, which was the only point in the city where he couldn’t see “this tall skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant and disgraceful skeleton.

I have visited the Eiffel Tower four times now; in 1979 on a Town Twinning visit to Evreux in Normandy, in 1989 on a weekend trip with some work colleagues to celebrate a new career, this occasion and finally in 2004, the last time that I visited Paris.  Unfortunately on every occasion the weather has been overcast and I have never enjoyed the clear views that should really be possible from the top.

Back at ground level the sun was beginning to break through as we crossed the River Seine and onto the Champs de Mars and as it was approaching lunchtime we found a restaurant with pavement tables in the sun and ordered a pizza.  The food was reasonably priced but I remember a large glass of beer cost €8 so I made a mental note to find a mini-market on the way back to the hotel for more sensibly priced alcohol for the evening.

Our next stop was Notre Dam Cathedral but as we had walked quite a distance already we took a Batou Mouche barge ride the short distance the River to the Ile de Cîte and as the vessel made its way through the centre of the city we soaked up the historic sites along both banks from the viewing platform at the back which was crowded now because the mist had finally gone and there was full sunshine and a blue sky.

Wimereux France Pays de Calais

Although we had already climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and half way up the Eiffel Tower we bought tickets and waited in line to climb to the top of the Cathedral but sadly by the time we reached the top and walked around the external galleries the mist had returned and wrapped Paris in a gloomy grey shroud again.

Jonathan was beginning to flag by now and as it was late afternoon we walked a little further around the streets of old Paris and then took a metro back to Montmartre where we walked along the boulevard with its seedy sex establishments and grubby shops and into the touristy cobbled back streets of the district famous for painters, night-life and a red-light district.

The plan was to find somewhere to eat but he was so tired that he preferred my suggestion of returning to the hotel and I would fetch a McDonalds meal from around the corner and we would just stay in and crash! So we did just that.

Even though the French maintain that they despise the Company and the concept of fast food an awful lot of people eat there.  Across France today there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under golden arches, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the population.

mcbaguette

In just one year the chain’s French revenues increased by 11 per cent to €3 billion. That’s more than it generates in Britain and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself.  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.

It had been an excellent day in Paris but a tiring one and as we reflected on the day we dubbed it ‘Speed Sightseeing’ and we successfully employed this method again in 2003 in Amsterdam and then in 2004 in Rome.

A Previous Visit to Normandy

“I’ve never approved of the idea of twinning, because places are inevitably matched with places like them.  So if you live, say, in a stunningly beautiful medieval town… then you’ll be twinned with your exquisite European equivalent.  If you live in Warrington or St Helens then you’ll be twinned with another industrial casualty.” – Pete McCarthy, ‘McCarthy’s Bar’

Town Twinning became a big thing after the Second World War as people sought to repair relationships with their neighbours and forge new bonds of friendship.

I have often wondered what the process was in selecting a twin town?

Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of dating service and introductory agency.

Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins.  That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry.

Perhaps even more surprising is that Sherborne in Dorset, a town of only ten thousand residents has fifteen twin towns.

From 1975 to 1980 I worked at Rugby Borough Council and there was a strong Town Twinning Association with a regular group of Council bigwigs rotating biannually between visiting the twin town of Evreux in Normandy, France and then entertaining French visitors the following year.  In 1977 Rugby twinned with a second town, this time Russelheim in Germany, and this meant new people were required to fill the coaches and provide accommodation for visitors.  We expressed an interest in the Gallic option and in 1979 joined the twinners.

1979 was a year when the French visited the UK so we joined in the fund raising and the planning meetings in preparation.  We were excited about this cleaned the house from top to bottom, manicured the garden and prepared appropriate menus.  In 1979 I had only been to Europe twice, Italy in 1976 and Spain in 1977 and this hadn’t involved a lot of getting familiar with the locals so to have visitors from France staying in our house was a bit of an adventure.

The visitors from Evreux arrived one evening in September and we were introduced to our guests for the weekend Charles and Marie Rose Freret and we had a interesting first evening of  ‘getting to know each other’.  Luckily Charles and especially Marie Rose spoke good English so this happily meant that we didn’t have to communicate through embarrassing nods, pointing gestures and shouting at each other but this was nevertheless an occasion when I wished that I had paid more attention to Pluto Thompson in school French lessons.

To be honest there wasn’t a lot of time for awkward or uncomfortable moments because the weekend was well planned with a civic reception, a garden party, an evening out and the inevitable visit to nearby Stratford-upon-Avon.  The only clumsy time was when I produced a bottle of Piat D’or white wine.  I thought that this would be a winner because the adverts said ‘The French adore le Piat D’or’ but it turned out that they didn’t actually and Charles had never even heard of it.  I showed him the bottle to substantiate my claims and he drank it but I don’t think he was impressed!

Playing host was good fun but it was even better of course to travel to France and be entertained in Evreux and in the following year we joined the coach outside the Town Hall and set off for the English Channel.

Charles and Marie Rose lived in a middle class suburb just outside the town and the house and the ambiance confirmed what we already knew – that Charles was a traditional Frenchman through and through, proud of the culture and the French way of life.  He knew about wine and had different bottles for each course of evening meal (and he didn’t feel obliged to drink the bottle all in one go, which I thought was strange because doesn’t wine go off once the cork has been removed?), Marie Rose knew about French cuisine and prepared an excellent meal and Charles turned out to be an expert on cheese (French of course) and the order in which it should be eaten.

The itinerary of visits was excellent and we visited Paris (my first time) and did the main sights including to trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower on a disappointingly misty day.  On the second day we toured the pretty town centre of Evreux, visited Monet’s delightful house and garden at Giverney and finished the day with a trip to the Palace of Versailles where in the evening there was the most spectacular fireworks and water fountains display accompanied by Handel’s Water Music.

The final civic reception was held in the countryside at a Chateaux some way out the town and there was a sumptuous buffet of dining treats including caviar on wafer thin savoury biscuits.  Now, this was still at a time when my gastronomic experience could best be described as limited and I had never had caviar before, so I took two.  How I wished I hadn’t because to me it tasted awful and with my fist bite I had a mouthful of slimy fish eggs that was beginning to make me gag and it looked certain I was about to make a show of myself.  I tried to wash it down with a generous swig of champagne and somehow managed to get it past the point of no return without serious incident but this left the problem of the one and a half biscuits still on my plate.  I thought about the toilets but it would have looked odd taking my food to the gents but fortunately there was an unnecessary log fire at one end of the room so I casually made my way across to it and discreetly disposed of it in the flames.

In the following year I changed jobs and moved away to Rugby and that put an end to Town Twinning for a while until over twenty years later in 2002.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol – Madame Liberty

Madame Liberty

The French are proud of Madame Liberty who can be found in most French towns alongside the inevitable Place de la Revolution and the Place de la Republique an interesting contrast to the UK where I am yet to find a ‘Constitutional Monarchy Square’!

Madame Liberty represents the spirit of the French Revolution (various revolutions actually, 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, 1968) and I have always thought how magnificent it would be if England could have a more exciting national symbol instead of the frumpy Britannia! It’s an interesting fact however that when the French built the Statue of Liberty for the USA they made sure that she was more discreetly attired!

Statue of Liberty

 

Warsaw, Paris of the East

Warsaw Old Town

I woke early the next morning so made good use of the time before breakfast by reading the complimentary guide books supplied by the Tourist Information Office.

I shouldn’t really have been surprised by this because I have seen it so many times but there on the first page of the ‘Warsaw Top Ten’ guide was the description, Warsaw – Paris of the East.

After Venice it seems that it is the city that more than most other cities want to associate themselves with and in addition to Warsaw.  I have yet to come across a New York of the East, a Moscow of the West or a Canberra of the North but, when it comes to Paris, even without leaving Europe we have:

Baku, Azerbaijan; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Leipzig, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Riga, Latvia; Saint Petersburg, Russia.  As if to make doubly sure, in a belt and braces sort of way Saint Petersburg doubles up in this respect by also calling itself the ‘Venice of the North’ even though it has competition for this particular title from Amsterdam, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh (which also calls itself the Athens of the North) and even Birmingham amongst others.

Including Warsaw I have had the good fortune to visit five of these alternative Paris cities, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, Riga and Prague and I have to say that I can find very little similarity in any of these places with the real thing.  Prague would have to come closest I would have to say but only on the basis that they have a sort of Eiffel Tower.

PetrinObservationTower

Beyond Europe there are a few more but the most bizarre of all surely has to be Beirut! Paris itself if often called the City of Lovers or the City of Light but I have never heard of it calling itself the Beirut of the West and I am fairly certain that it is most unlikely ever to do so.

In addition to the French capital there are of course a number of places that are officially called Paris including nine in the United States in Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Kentucky, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and one that was even the title of a film – Paris, Texas. There is one missing from this list however and the one that is most Paris like of all, the one at EPCOT World Showcase in Disney World Florida.  Three other U.S. cities have at some time been called the Paris of the West – Denver, Detroit and San Fransisco but these all seem just as unlikely to me as Shanghai in China!

There is also a Paris in Ontario in Canada and Montreal has been dubbed the Paris of the West.

France EPCOT

My favourite copycat naming however is in South America where  there is an entire country that is called Little Venice’ said to have originated from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who led a 1499 naval expedition.  When he landed he saw native people living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. He thought that the country resembled Venice so named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’.  That’s a bit odd I suppose when you consider that Venezuela is nearly two thousand three hundred times bigger than Venice itself!

Other interesting facts that I learned this morning were that in 2012 Warsaw was ranked as the thirty-second most liveable city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit (Copenhagen in Denmark is top, no UK city makes the top twenty-five and the highest place North American city is Vancouver at fifteenth).  Warsaw is the tenth largest city in the European Union and that it is ranked one hundred and thirteenth out of one hundred and forty-four in a list of the World’s most expensive cities and I was very happy to know that after last night’s expensive meal, as I examined the damage and counted up the remaining Polish Zlotys in my wallet and wondered how I might be able to repair the overspend later tonight.

Eventually it was time for breakfast and we made our way down to the dining room where we had enjoyed the previous night’s meal and we were treated to a lavish buffet breakfast, hot and cold, Polish and continental, sparkling wine and even vodka for those that start the day in this way.  I mention this because I was quite surprised how extravagant it was on account of the fact that we had only paid £60 a night for the superior room and the all-inclusive breakfast.  A real bargain.

The only disappointing thing this morning was the weather because after yesterday’s blue skies today there was a heavy mist which obscured the top of the Palace of Culture and Science and blotting out the sun made it rather chilly but undeterred by this we set off once more in the direction of the Old Town.

Warsaw Old Town

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Turds

Paris Dog Poo

When I worked in the waste management industry the company that I worked for, the French Company Onyx UK  thought they had a perfect solution to pavement dog fouling.  Onyx UK were part of the French Water Company Compagnie Générale des Eaux  which through its network of companies also had responsibility for cleaning the streets of Paris.

Read the full story…