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Posts Tagged ‘budget travel’

Where to start?  Where to go? What to see?

Paris offers so many possibilities, but it is a really big city, and if you aren’t careful you can spend most of your time trying to get from one marquee attraction to the next. Even off season, attractions like the Louvre and Gare d’Orsay are very popular. In fact, off season, you are likely to encounter a lot of school groups: Not always conducive to the contemplation of great works of art. Throw in a lot of standing in line and some pricey tickets and a day in Paris can leave both you and your wallet feeling a little drained.

It’s been quite a few years since I was in Paris with time enough to do some sight-seeing.  Even longer since I visited the Louvre or climbed the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. Did you know there are 35,000 works of art in the Louvre? To look at everything would take about 9 months of full-time effort. About eight and a half million people visit every year.

I like art but I like it best when it sneaks up on me; when I stumble on a little gallery, or open someone’s coffee table book to find something wonderful and surprising. The last time I was at the Louvre, it was a less than pleasurable experience that left me feeling fraught. Since it’s the most visited museum in the world, I decided my absence would not be noted.

Instead, I decided to find a few less celebrated attractions conveniently located in one neighbourhood. The Marais was my choice for a full day outing. The name Marais means swamp and the land was once swampland adjoining the Seine and nearby Ile de la Cite, where Paris started out as a village inhabited by the Parisii tribe. The historic neighbourhood is charming, with narrow streets and interesting shops. It was originally the preferred location for aristocrats. It later became, and remains, a popular Jewish quarter. More recently, both the gay community and Chinese immigrants have become increasingly established. The result is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and night spots.

Within the Marais are several excellent museums and I chose two of these to visit. The first is a branch of the Museum of Paris, dedicated to the city’s history. It is known as the Musee Carnavalet after one of two mansions in which it is housed. Wikipedia offers this concise description of its collections:

“The Carnavalet houses about 2,600 paintings, 20,000 drawings, 300,000 engravings and 150,000 photographs, 2,000 modern sculptures and 800 pieces of furniture, thousands of ceramics, many decorations, models and reliefs, signs, thousands of coins, countless items, many of them souvenirs of famous characters, and thousands of archeological fragments. . . . The period called Modern Time, which spans from the Renaissance until today, is known essentially by the vast amount of images of the city . . . There are many views of the streets and monuments of Paris from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, but there are also many portraits of characters who played a role in the history of the capital and works showing events which took place in Paris, especially the many revolutions which stirred the capital, as well as many scenes of the daily life in all the social classes.”  

In other words, something for everyone. I loitered for hours, often finding myself alone in one of the numerous exhibition halls. It’s in the center of town, it’s full of interesting historic items… Did I mention it’s free to enter? Oh, and that it has a pretty garden where you can wander around when you need a little break and some fresh air?

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By the time I had seen all the Carnavalet had to offer, I was hungry. A few blocks away, on quaint Rue de Rosiers, is the city’s most famous falafel shop (and a number of imitators.) Don’t let the line up in front of L’as du Falafel discourage you. It moves fast.

The line up outside L’as de Falafel

Best Falfel in Recent Memory

Runners took my order and money in exchange for a chit while I waited in line. Once at the window all I had to do was answer yes or no to the question “spicy sauce?”  It wasn’t overly spicy and added a lot of flavour. A massive veggie-laden falafel sandwich and a can of Heineken cost 8 euros. I found a quiet bench in a pocket-sized park two blocks away and devoured it.

After which I felt ready for the Shoah Memorial and museum depicting the history of anti-Semitism in France, the rise of Nazism, the crimes of the Vichy government and the events surrounding the deportation of Jews, more than 70 thousand of whom are listed on the memorial’s walls. The exhibits here include a reconstruction of the collection of file cards kept at one time on every Jewish person in Paris, as well as a picture wall of deported children. The crypt, in which ashes from concentration camps has been interred with Israeli soil, is peaceful and quite beautiful.  This exhibit is also free to enter.  While the subject matter is horrifying, it is well-presented and I recommend a visit.

Afterwards, I perused some of the local boutiques of the Marais. The Picasso Museum and the Pompidou Centre were both in easy reach, but two was enough. And Paris by Night lay just ahead!

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A few more photos of festival events in Barcelona during our recent visit:

The first is an exhibition of antique hand powered carnival rides from Antigua and Bermuda. After waiting his turn in line, the kid that got stuck in the rocket ship was not very pleased!

Salsa drum and marching bands are everywhere. My new life goal is to be a part of one. If I wasn’t entirely lacking in rhythm and musical ability, I’d just start one. Hello Gibsons percussionists – Call me!

Live music venues went all through the afternoon and evening. This was a full orchestra performing at Placa Catedral. We also saw African, Indian and lots of Spanish performers.

Gegants, or giants, up to five meters tall spent Saturday night asleep in City Hall. The emerged the next morning, two by two, to dance. They paraded through the city that evening. I have some great film footage that doesn’t want to upload from this iPad. The photo does the dozens of gegants little credit. So you should just plan to go. For all you frugal travelers…all these events free of charge!

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Had great value breakfast at the hostel and set off for Marienplatz to see the glockenspiel followed by visit to science museum and two beautiful churches. Sam lit a candle for Frank Now, despite good sleep, we’re all down for naps again. Have yet to quarrel with my sons–feel no need to treat them as this individual does…yet!

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