Monday, January 30, 2012

Notre Dame Cathedral ~ Paris ~ France

Our double-decker bus tour of beautiful Paris offered the option of getting on and off the bus whenever we chose to spend more time at any location.  This tour included a drive by Notre Dame Cathedral so we took this opportunity to stop and see more and have some lunch nearby.  We didn’t go inside as we hadn’t timed it right for that but the sight that we saw offered plenty to enjoy.
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France
There were hundreds of visitors in the square, many of them enjoying their lunch and most were likely waiting for the next service to begin.  There are over 13 million visitors a year for 5 daily services and 7 on Sunday.  That would make over 2,000 celebrations a year and we weren’t there at the right time for any!

Portal of the Last Judgement on Notre Dame Cathedral
There is such detail that is not obvious when you first look at these incredible structures steeped in history but on a closer look you will find an endless supply of art that tells stories.  Many of the sculptures on Notre Dame Cathedral tell stories from the bible but there is French history included as well.

Statues on the face of Notre Dame Cathedral
The carved rose, almost 10 meters in diameter on the upper level in the center features the virgin with child with an angel on either side of her.  Statues of Adam and Eve are on either side of the rose were added in the nineteenth century.  Across the width of the Cathedral is the Gallery of Kings.  These statues represent 28 generations of the kings of Judah

Carvings of the Portal of the last Judgement
The portal on the lower level on the left is known as the Portal of the Virgin, on the right is Portal of St. Anne and in the center is the largest called Portal of the Last Judgement. 
This one tells many stories but the one shows the souls of the dead being weighed to determine whether they go to heaven or hell.  The carvings surrounding in the arch are those watching from heaven above.  These portals were carved in the 1220’s to 1230’s.

Notre Dame Cathedral from River Seine
This view of the Cathedral was taken during our cruise on the River Seine. The first spire was built in 1250 and was the bell tower then this spire was built during a later restoration and stands 93 meters in height.

Apostles climb the spire of  Notre Dame Cathedral
The most interesting feature of this view, I found was the copper statues; some of the 12 apostles can be seen climbing the spire. If we could see all four corners of the spire at once, which could only be done from above (: then we would see 3 apostles climbing up each corner. The challenge of that construction alone is amazing.

Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cite
The Notre Dame Cathedral sits on Ile de la Cite which was the center of medieval Paris and the contemporary capital.  It is formed by two meanders of the River Seine which offers great opportunities to see the Cathedral while cruising the Seine.
We've seen so many wonderful sights in Paris and it is impossible to name a favorite.  Other 'can't miss' places to see in Paris include Sacre Coeur Basilica, Montmartre, Arc de Triomphe and of course the Eiffel Tower and so much more. Click on these locations and you will see more of this beautiful city of Paris.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Basilique du Sacre-Coeur ~ Montmartre ~ Paris ~ France

It does not matter what foreign country you may travel in, the church is often the heart of the city or the village that you visit and will be a point of interest worth seeing.  We have seen many on our travels and some of them are absolutely amazing but the Sacre-Coeur Basilica is one that will stand out in my mind forever.

Basilique du Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre, Paris, France
Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, Basilica of Sacred Heart sits at the highest point in Montmartre, a northern section of Paris, FranceMontmartre is translated as ‘mountain of the martyr” named after the martyred bishop who was beheaded in the fourth century.  Basilica du Sacre-Coeur was built 1875-1914. The travertine stone that it is made of releases calcite when it gets wet therefore maintains the white stone.

The musician and his harp on the steps of Basilica Sacre-Coeur, France
Montmartre has always been a favored place for musicians and artists to gather.  The harp was a beautiful instrument to listen to as we climbed all those steps to the top.  There is bus service for those that cannot or do not want to climb all those stairs.

Architectural details on the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur in Pais, France
The architecture of the Basilica was not typical for the time.  I don’t know what this particular creation is although it seems to resemble a cow.  It doesn’t look like typical gargoyles as some others on the building do but perhaps it was to direct water off the roof, which was one of the original reasons for gargoyles on buildings or to ward off evil.  I believe the faces carved into the building were the early bishops of the Basilica as was often done.

Doors leading into Basilica Sacre-Coeur
These beautiful bronze doors led us to the most incredible mosaic I have ever seen.  Cameras are not allowed inside which is understandable but much to my dismay, so all I have is the picture embedded in my mind.  The mosaic, “Christ in Majesty” filled the apse, the vaulted recess of the dome and with the use of gold leaf and lights to highlight, it almost took my breath away.  It is among the largest mosaics in the world and is an incredible sight.  

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Paris
So many architectural details were used in this early day that may not be immediately noticeable but on a closer look, they will be there. Several gargoyles around the church plus the faces we could see in the other picture.  Many structures will include statues of people of importance, Joan of Arc is the patina colored statue we see above the entrance on the Basilica.

The view of Paris, France from the Basilica
The view of Paris from the steps of Basilica du Sacre-Coeur was from a good resting spot after climbing many steps and also gives an idea of the size of this beautiful city showing only a portion.  The Eiffel Tower, slightly lower than the height of the dome on the Basilica, is out of sight of our view here.

Street musician in Montmartre, Paris, France
This gentleman was the epitome of what we might expect to see on our visit to the old gathering place for artists in Montmartre, Paris, France in years gone by.  His appearance is very French and the song he performed while we were there was an old standard easily recognized by these visitors.  This began our visit to Place du Tertre.  Click here to join us there.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Montmartre ~ Place du Tertre ~ Paris ~ France

We are loving our time in Paris and eager to see as much as possible in our four days in Paris, France.  We have enjoyed the mode of transport on the double decker tour buses and how easy we can get from one area to another.  Today we have chosen to visit Montmartre, a designated historic district north of downtown Paris

The Moulin Rouge in Paris, France
The Moulin Rouge, opened in 1889 is the legendary cabaret that still has shows with the beautiful dancers dressed in feathers and sequins dancing the cancan.  Many famous American artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Elton John have performed here following in the footsteps of many world renowned French artists of the earlier days. To learn more about the theater and restaurant, click here.

The streets of Montmartre in Paris, France
The narrow shop-lined streets are very common in Paris where there is only foot traffic and with the crowds felt like a traffic jam.  The popularity of the area is a great draw for tourists and locals on any given day of the week.
Street entertainment 
This appears to be street gambling to see if you can beat the fast hand of the dealer and we saw many of these in Paris.  They work in teams and the one putting the money down to try to win is actually a friend of the dealer but it fools many tourists who might think they will win, too.  Consider it entertainment but not worth participating in unless you want to lose your money.

Place du Tertre in Montmartre, France
 The square at the top of Montmartre was once the gathering place of now famous painters, poets and composers of the 19th century.  The tree covered area also has cafés and restaurants lining the street that make a great place to spend a sunny afternoon in Paris.

Artists at work in Place du Tertre
This square is still where many artists set up to work and sell their paintings these days.  We also listened to some very talented street musicians playing for tips while we spent some time enjoying the artsy atmosphere. I’m sure it isn’t the same as it was during days gone by but it is fun to imagine sitting with those artists and philosophers trading their stories as they sat on these streets of Montmartre all those years ago.

Galleries and souvenirs in Montmartre, Paris, France
This street at the top of Montmartre is a very short distance from Basilica du Sacre-Coeur, whose dome is the highest point in the city.  The art galleries selling French art and souvenirs line the streets leading to the Place du Tertre, where the artists gathered.

Montmartre tourbus passes the cafe
We just had to have lunch at a French café in Montmartre to really enjoy our visit to the district.  The tables and chairs sit out on the narrow street which saw freight carrying trucks practically brush our shoulders on their way by.  The Montmartre tour bus, a small train like vehicle is used to take tourists for a tour of the area and for those not wishing to climb all the stairs to get to the top.

Montmartre Funicular
The Montmartre Funicular, originally built in 1900 is there for those who prefer not to walk up the many stairways of 300 steps or more to the top.  Some steps are required to use to get to the funicular, which was rebuilt in 1996 is part of the bus system and costs a minimal price for the ride.  Over 2 million people use this funicular every year, more people riding up than down.

We also spent time visiting the Basilica Sacre-Coeur during our visit to Montmartre, the interior was a sight never to be forgotten.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fraser Canyon ~ Highway 1 ~ BC ~ Canada

We love rv'ing but winter travels can be treacherous in typical winter conditions.  Our options to travel south from Kamloops, BC include a few different routes but due to the recent snowfall warning for the Coquihalla Highway, we chose to travel through the Fraser Canyon.  It had been several years since we'd used the route, especially during the winter but the road conditions sounded good.

The Fraser River arrives in Lytton, BC

The Thompson River flows into the Fraser River at Lytton, BC where the Thompson Canyon meets the Fraser Canyon. The Fraser River continues through the beautiful canyon named after it and is the longest river in BC.  It runs from the Fraser Pass to Mount Robson in the Rocky Mountains travelling 1375 km (854 mi) into the Strait of Georgia at Vancouver, BC.
Cloud formation in the Fraser Canyon
We only had a bit of blue sky to enjoy but the dark clouds made great paintings on the canvas-like sky with enough brightness to create reflections on the hood of the truck.  We enjoyed dry roads for most of our trip through the Fraser Canyon other than some wet spots from recent rain but we had mild temperatures that prevented any ice from forming on the road.
The snow level sits high above the railway
There had been snowfall overnight but the snow level was high above our roads and the railway that runs on either side of the Fraser Canyon rocky walls.  Early transportation through the Canyon before 1862 was on a narrow mule trail, so named as there was only room for one mule. The Cariboo Wagon Road was an improvement in getting through the canyon and was built by 1865.  Sections of that trail were destroyed when the railway was built as there was not enough room on parts of the terrain for both. 

The center of the Fraser Canyon is Boston Bar, BC
During the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush 1858-1860, the canyon between Boston Bar and Spuzzum, BC was called Big or Black Canyon.  The ‘black’ may be due to the color of the rock cliffs when they’re wet.  When the CP Railway was built in the 1860’s, this construction cut off road access to Boston Bar and Lytton except for a difficult wagon trail.  We’ve come a long way since then.

The China Bar Tunnel in the Fraser Canyon
There are a total of seven tunnels that we pass through on our travels through the Fraser Canyon.  The one closest to Boston Bar is called China Bar Tunnel, named after an old mining area. It is a curved tunnel that is the longest of them all at 610 meters (2000’) and one of North America’s longest, the Yale Tunnel is the shortest one at 57m (190’).

Hell's Gate in the Fraser Canyon
At Hell’s Gate, where the canyon walls are about 1000 m (3300’) high, there is an Airtram that operates April to October that will take you on a ride down the canyon walls to see the Fishways, which opened in 1945. Previous to the Airtram opening in 1971, there were trails leading down to the river and I remember making that walk down with family in the early 1960’s.  If memory serves me right, there were no others on the trails that day, it wasn’t an easy trek back then!

Hell's Gate Tunnel
The construction of this portion of the Fraser Canyon Highway was a very tedious and difficult job and was considered a great engineering feat. It began in the late 50’s and I remember traveling through here as a young one and having to pull over to allow traffic to pass by before it was all completed in the mid ‘60’s.  The roads were narrow dirt roads and two way traffic and that made it a scary trip at times, especially when there was big construction equipment using most of that road.

The north side of the Fraser Canyon approaching Yale, BC
We have crossed the Fraser River on the Alexandra Bridge and we now follow the river along the north side.  The Yale Tunnel is the last one we pass through as we approach Yale, a once thriving town during the Gold Rush days. The canyon between Spuzzum and Yale, BC is called Little Canyon because it is the lowest part of the Fraser Canyon.  This is also where the steamboats were able to navigate to from the coast before the river became too difficult to continue.  

The Fraser River at Hope, BC
We’ve now reached the end of our travels through the Fraser Canyon when we reach HopeBC, which is 108 km (67 mi) from Lytton, BC.  The small town of Hope, nestled in the surrounding mountains, is the intersection of 3 major highways.
We had left Kamloops by midmorning to avoid icy road conditions and were very happy to have also been able to not have any rain or snow to contend with, we really couldn't have asked for better winter road conditions and we're ready to continue onto some sunny places. 
To learn much more of what the Thompson and Fraser Canyons have to offer, have a look at  .  They're a wonderful source of information.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fraser Canyon ~ Thompson Canyon ~ BC, Canada

We love rv'ing and have travelled many different roads during every season of the year.  During winter months, weather conditions must be considered in order to decide the best route to take and on this trip we decided that the best road conditions appear to be through the Fraser Canyon. This is such a scenic drive and we haven't traveled this section of the Trans Canada Highway for a long while, especially during winter months so with the route now planned, we were on our way.

We begin our travels through the Thompson Canyon, Cache Creek, BC
Cache Creek is 193 km (120 mi) to Hope and pulling the fifth wheel meant we would likely take about two and half hours travelling through the canyon to reach Hope,  It is a rather dreary overcast day but the sights are great anyway and we're appreciating that we do not have any snow or ice on the road to contend with.  We barely see a dusting of snow up on the hills on this part of the trip and we expect to see more in winter.

The Thompson River offers a scenic drive
The Fraser Canyon is what most call the area between Cache Creek, BC to Hope, BC but technically between Ashcroft, just south of Cache Creek and Lytton, which is half way through to Hope, it is called the Thompson Canyon.  The Thompson River flows through this canyon and meets the Fraser River at Lytton, BC.  Lytton to Hope, BC is what is technically the Fraser Canyon.  This makes total sense knowing the two different rivers but I had never questioned that before because we appear to follow the same canyon.   Now that I have the correct information, I understand it but old habits are hard to break and you know what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks :).

Waterfalls down the rocks at Spences Bridge, BC
The Thompson River at Spences Bridge has always been a favored spot for steelhead fishing and today we spotted a few people standing in the river with their fishing rods busy searching for the 'big' one.  I noticed this water cascading down the rock face across the river from the highway and I think there may be bits of ice on the rock but there is definitely water that is not frozen on this day making a great waterfall.

The Goldpan Tunnels in  the Thompson Canyon
Both the CN Railway and the CP Railways were built along the rockface along either sides of the Thompson River.  There and several tunnels drilled through the rock as well as structures built over the tracks to prevent rocks or snow landing on the tracks and causing problems.  A bit of history of the railways about construction through the Fraser Canyon can be found on my Kamloops blog concerning their connection to the railway.
The Thompson River appears calm before the rapids
Much of the Thompson Canyon is not very deep so we are fairly close to the Thompson River level.  The river is usually quite low at this time of year but that changes throughout the seasons. At this point we are able to see all the rocks that create a big challenge for anyone who may want to boat down the Thompson even with higher water levels; I understand it is one of the most popular river trips for those who like the whitewater rafting and a great day for those that do it!

The highway climbs up from the bottom of the Thompson Canyon
We are beginning our climb up the mountainside and leaving the river to follow at the bottom of the canyon,  We are driving on roads that are mainly wet but no ice and no snow to make this a difficult trip. There is enough water on the road to warrant using the window wash on occasion so always make sure you have those filled before you leave on this kind of weather days.

Snow capped mountains of the Lillooet Range
As we're approaching the Lytton area, we see some sunshine appear with blue sky that allow us to see the snowcaps on those beautiful mountains that are part of the splendor of the Fraser Canyon; that begins when we leave the Thompson Canyon at Lytton, BC where the Thompson River meets the Fraser River and continues onto Vancouver, BC.

More snow on the mountains at higher elevations
The mountains we see are part of the Lillooet Range with Skihist Mountain being the highest peak at 2972 meters (9750').  We can see there is some snow up on the mountains but less than expected at this time of year.  The weather seems to be different than our normal, no matter who we speak to.

We see the Thompson River at the bottom of the Thompson Canyon
We've climbing quite high in the mountains on the Trans Canada Highway (TCH), also called Highway 1 and are still amazed at how mild the day is and the conditions of the road make the drive stress free.  This most definitely makes the travel much more enjoyable than dealing with snow and icey roads.  We can see the Thompson River way down below as it weaves its way through the canyon to soon meet with the Fraser River.

So now that we've had our lesson on the Thompson Canyon - Fraser Canyon names, we will continue our drive down through the Fraser Canyon and see how good the roads might be on this section of the TCH for our winter travels.

To  learn more about this wonderful part of our province, click on the link to visit to see all that there is to see. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Arc de Triomphe ~ Paris ~ France

It was a sight to behold and got better as we drew nearer. We were riding on the top level of one of the many double decker tour buses in Paris for a bird's eye view and as we travelled down the Champs Elysees.  We had so many sights to see but the one incredible sight at the end of the street that was spellbinding was the Arc de Triomphe. It is hard to capture all the beautiful features of this fine piece of history and architecture while riding around it on top of a tour bus but I did feel I had some advantages from my viewpoint that I would not have from the street.  The sculptures engraved in the Arch are incredible and I hope to take us back in time with the story behind this work of art. 

Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees in Paris, France
Napolean Bonaparte first commissioned the Arch in 1806 by the French architect Jean Chalgrin, to commemorate his victories but due to circumstances it was not finished until long  the death of Chalgrin in 1911.  The construction was not completed until the reign of King Louis-Philippe 1833-1836 with the talents of other architects long after Napoleon's death

The size of the Arc de Triomphe is bigger than expected
Napoleon Bonaparte had wanted the Arc to be completed to impress his new bride when she arrived in 1810 but a temporary wooden one had to be built in order to be ready on time as only the base had been completed during those first four years.

A close-up of the sculptural relief on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France

The model for the Arc de Triomphe was based on the Arch of Titus in Rome, which was 15 meters high but the Arc de Triomphe was over 50 metres (164’) when it was completed in 1836. There are 234 steps that visitors can climb and get an amazing view of the city and if you look at the first photo you will see some of those visitors enjoying the view from the top. 
The history showing the soldiers in battle
The top of the Arc has 30 shields which each bears the name of a successful battle of Napoleon’s.  The four supporting columns of the Arc have names of major battles of major battles of Napoleonic wars.   
The interior walls are engraved with names of French Generals
The names of 558 French Generals are engraved on the inner face of the Arc and the names of those who died in battle have been underlined.  The most famous of all the reliefs on the Arc is the Departure of the Volunteers and is commonly called La Marseillaise. 

The artwork of the Arc de Triomphe is incredible
Napoleon Bonaparte was a many of many accomplishments and it was too bad he didn’t live long enough to see the Arc when it was completed.  If this was what he had envisioned from the beginning, then he was once again a winner.  Napoleon’s body was carried through these arches in 1840 when it was moved to Les Invalides in Paris, where it resides to this day. 

Visitors come to see the amazing Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France
The Unknown Soldier represents 1,500,000 French soldiers who lost their lives in WW!.  This was following the example of the Unknown Warrior buried at Westminster Abbey in London, England. The Flame of Remembrance on this tomb is a tribute to all those soldiers who were never identified from both WW 1 and 2.  The flame is rekindled daily and they celebrate the anniversary of armistice on November 11th yearly.

The magnificant Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France

The size of the Arc makes it a very impressive sight to see as it sits tall in Place Charles de Gaulle, at the junction where twelve streets meet, all named after French military leaders.  It is large enough that an aviator was able to fly his Nieuport biplane through it at the 1919 Paris Victory Parade to mark the end of WW 1. 
This is the place where troops have rallied and held many parades and where millions of visitors have come to pay their respects to the millions of soldiers that it represents and to see the history of valiant battles engraved on the Arc de Triomphe.  It is a wonderful sight to behold in a city that has many incredible sights, like the Eiffel Tower, one of which I will also share.


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