Rome Suspends River Cruises Because Tiber Too Polluted

Visitors to Rome this year won’t be able to cruise along the Tiber River, which weaves through the city, because it has become “strewn with rubbish,” according to a representative of Rome Boats, the company that controls the river tours.

In an interview with AFP, Rome Boats’ Mauro Pica Villa said there would be no tours because the tour operators would be “ashamed” to show the Tiber in its current state. He described the embankments as “grey with pollution” and the trees that line the river as covered in plastic bags and other rubbish. The last time the Tiber was cleaned was in 2008, and the river suffers from bureaucratic idiosyncrasies that have shuffled the responsibility for its care away from the city government.

This is a good thing. Not the pollution – the tour cancelation. Though quite popular at their launch a decade ago, a Tiber tour is generally a terrible idea. Unlike on a cruise down the Seine in Paris, it’s difficult to appreciate much of Rome from the deeply set and narrow Tiber. The tour is a good way to see Rome’s bridges, but the remainder of it is spent gawking up at the ugly grim parapets that line the banks. Because the walls are so high (or the Tiber so low, really), you can’t see much of Rome this way.

Hopefully the Tiber gets cleaned up, but the best way to see Rome and its iconic river is still by foot along its banks.

[Photo credit: Flickr user The Wolf]

Impressive Normandy Festivals To See This Year

Normandy

The Normandy region of France is host to a number of festivals and events, some of which attract travelers from around the world. For many Americans, Normandy brings to mind D-Day landings, World War II and the Normandy beaches, but there is a whole lot more to know about.

The Armada- June 6-16, 2013
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, “L’Armada de la liberté” – “The Sails of Freedom” brings millions of visitors to the Port of Rouen for concerts, gigantic fireworks and plenty of other entertainment.

But the stars of the show are more than 50 of the largest sailing ships in the world. Also featured are modern warships, all of which have sailed up the 120 kilometers of the River Seine through the beautiful landscapes of Normandy.

Cirque Theater
One of the last surviving permanent circus rings in France, the theater in d’Elbeuf is the only one to have a 13-meter-wide ring, exactly like the ring under a big top in a traveling circus, plus a proscenium stage.

Normandy Impressionist Festival- April 27 through September 23, 2013
All over Normandy, called “the birthplace of Impressionism,” preparations for the second Festival Normandie Impressionniste are under way.

With water as its central theme, the festival brings to the fore an eclectic program across the arts with exhibitions, concerts, films, modern art, literature and picnics like Manet’s “The Luncheon on the Grass.”


To find out more about Impressionism in Normandy, watch this short video:


[Photo Credit- Rouen and Seine Valley District Tourist Office/JFLange]

Photo Of The Day: Umbrella In Paris

Paris is a visually arresting city no matter where you look, whether it’s the city’s ornate architecture, fashionable residents or jaw-dropping art museums. Take this photo by Flickr user Cosmic Smudge, who captured this intriguing Paris scene after a rainstorm, as evidence. I love the mysterious umbrella holder, whose face remains unseen, complemented by splashes of bright red and flashes of gold from the buildings behind.

Taken any great travel photos of your own in Paris? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Cosmic Smudge]

The Historic Heart Of Rouen, A Walking Tour

the historic heart of rouenAt the historic heart of Rouen lies the Notre-Dame Cathedral, alone worth a visit to the French city that today boasts a half a million residents. Dating back to a foundation that began in the fourth century, it serves as a centerpiece for a “magic zone” where visitors can trace 1000 years of history, from the Roman era to present day. We went on a walking tour of the still-bustling metropolis that focused on five main sites, offering a unique look into a past that is very much part of today.

The Cathedral itself dominates the Rouen skyline, while ongoing reconstruction continues the structure’s evolution. To those who live and work in the area, that’s nothing new though. Destroyed by Vikings at one time and bombed (unintentionally) in World War II, its cast iron spires stand over 150 meters high, the tallest in France. Inside, one can’t help but be humbled by the still-standing, still-functional testament to the evolution of Gothic art.

Just opposite the cathedral, lesser-known Bureau des Finances dates back to the early 16th century and was once where Impressionist Claude Monet created his “Cathedral” series. Gadling was allowed a rare view from inside where Monet’s studio was at that time.

the historic heart of rouen

Walking the pedestrianized streets of Rouen where only foot traffic is allowed, we passed under the city’s signature monument, the Gros Horloge. Initially constructed around 1170, it served as the western gateway to what was the old Roman town. Walking under the clock face and below its richly decorated arch, stopping at shops along the way, it was hard not to realize much of what we were seeing is as it was centuries ago.

the historic heart of rouen

Not far is the Palais de Justice, built between 1499 and 1550 on the former site of the town’s Jewish quarter, destroyed in 1306 after the expulsion of the Jews from France. In 1515 the building began housing a court with legal, political and administrative powers. Continuing that theme, today local police cars can be seen in front of the building that was built centuries before their invention. During European Heritage Days in September, the building is open to the public.

the historic heart of rouen

Amid all this history, intertwined with centuries of construction, are storefronts that host viable, working businesses at ground level with housing above.

Looking forward, Rouen has launched a host of development, infrastructure, cultural and environmental projects. Rouen’s museums house the largest Impressionist collection outside of Paris, just a two-hour drive away. An international destination for the performing arts, its opera is set to tour the world. Nearby Seine valley attractions are home to a wide variety of must-see monuments, routes and sights.

But what impressed us most was how history and today are intermingled. Like a movie set, today’s buildings are right on top of yesteryear’s structures as those of the future will be on top of todays. Visitors and residents from around the world mingle to make for people watching that seems like a movie scene but yet happens every day, just as it has for centuries. Our short two-hour walking tour could have lasted far longer and gives good reason to return like generations have throughout much of recorded time.

For more information about Rouen, contact the Office of Tourism at www.rouenvalleedeseine.com.

Visit Rouen Cathedral in France


[Photos- Chris Owen]

Three days in Paris

A visit to Paris is not complete without visits to the Eiffel Tower and Louvre, but visitors usually miss some of the city’s most interesting galleries, neighborhoods and attractions while trying to pack in all the “must-see” sights. Whether it’s your first visit or you’re just looking to see something off the beaten path, here are a few suggestions that will give you another glimpse of Paris beyond the guidebooks.

Riding on the Métro
At first glance, Paris’ subway system – Métropolitain or the Métro, as it’s commonly known – looks confusing with its 16 lines and 300 stations. However, the Métro is the most efficient, convenient and economical way to see Paris and its environs. If you know the number or color of the line you want to take and the terminus station at each end, it’s actually quite easy. Follow the signs inside each station, making sure to look at the terminus listed, as this will let you know you’re going in the right direction. You’ll also see the list of stops.

Running in tandem with the Metro is the RER (translation: Regional Express Network), which are commuter trains that run further into the suburbs and makes less frequent stops. However, many RER trains stop at well-known spots (like Notre-Dame), so consult your map and remember the RER lines are lettered A to E. You can purchase a Paris Visite travel card for one to five days (a three day card for central Paris is €20, approximately $26 at current conversion rates) or simply buy a carnet, a stack of 10 individual tickets (€12) that is good for one trip with transfers on the Metro, zone 1 of the RER (central Paris) and even the buses. For more information visit www.ratp.info.

An Afternoon in the Garden
Paris’ botanical gardens, Jardin des Plantes, is one of the city’s most beautiful spaces, but it’s not a huge tourist draw like the more famous Tuileries or Luxembourg Gardens. That’s a shame, because Jardin des Plantes is worth an afternoon visit, even if it’s just to sit on a bench and people-watch along the tree-lined walkways. However, there is much to do in the gardens, including a visit to the zoo, Le Menagerie (created in 1795 from animals formerly housed at Versailles Palace), four natural history museums, or one of the giant greenhouses.

There are also beautiful maintained flowerbeds and art, including Dupaty’s famed Venus Genetrix. There is no admission charge to Jardin des Plantes, but it’s €5 for the green houses and €8 or €6 for children to Le Menagerie. More information is available at www.mnhn.fr. Jardin des Plantes is a short walk from a number of Metro stations including Jussieu, Censier Daubenton or Gare d’Austerlitz.

An Evening Along the Seine
Strolling along the Seine on a beautiful summer evening is like no other experience in the world. The light is different in Paris and the way it plays over the gently flowing river is why so many visitors and locals alike pause along the bridges and quays. To get the full experience, here’s a way to spend an evening.

Start with dinner at Café Panis (21 Quai de Montebello) and grab a table right on the street with a commanding view of Notre-Dame and the Seine. Café Panis has an extensive menu (try an omelet frommage and salad, €10), a big wine and beer selection, a good selection of desserts and coffees. The food is delicious and the view across the river to the spires and flying buttresses of Notre-Dame are like a postcard.

After dinner stroll just down the street to Shakespeare and Company bookstore. A landmark of the Left Bank since 1951, it was founded by American ex-pat George Whitman. It’s tiny, but full of new and used books – in English – with special attention to the classics and poetry. The shop is famed for its reading series and authors sometimes sleep upstairs.

After you’ve purchased a book or two, stroll across Pont du Double to Île de la Cité, the island that sits in the middle of the Seine and is the heart of Paris. Wander through the side garden of the cathedral and cross Pont Saint-Louis to Île de Saint-Louis for ice cream at Le Flore en L’Ile (42 Quai d’Orleans). This little place along the Seine serves Berthillon ice cream and sorbet, considered some of the finest in the world. Made only from milk, sugar, cream, eggs and natural flavoring, it’s the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. The counter is set up right on the street for easy access to customers. I had a scoop of the chocolate noir and it made me want to snap into a diabetic coma. You can sit at one of the outdoor café tables or take the steps down to the river walk and enjoy watching the bateaux sail along the river as the sun begins to set.

Rodin and Claudel
While Auguste Rodin’s genius as a sculptor is without question, one of the main reasons to visit the Musée Rodin is to see the work of Camille Claudel. From 1893 to the early 20th Century, Claudel was mentored by Rodin (and later became his model and lover) and was a headstrong and talented woman in an era that did not appreciate or welcome female artists. Many considered her mentally ill, and her outbursts of anger often lead to the destruction of her own work. Only about 100 pieces survive and 15 of them are at the Musée Rodin.

While Rodin’s influence is noticeable in her early work, Claudel’s later sculptures in marble and onyx are so fluid and finely detailed that she often upstages her mentor. The star power at the museum, of course, are iconic statues like Rodin’s The Thinker and The Kiss, but take a moment to study Claudel’s work in context. The museum’s ornamental garden with its fountains, sculptures and stone pathways (and there’s even an outdoor cafeteria) is a perfect place to soak up the sun surrounded by the art of two masters. Admission to the museum and special exhibitions is €10, while if you just want to wander around the garden it’s only €1.

A Picnic in Place des Vosges
This beautiful park is just a short walk from the Bastille Metro station on the Right Bank. The oldest planned square in Paris (started in 1605), the homes, shops, restaurants and luxury hotels that ring the perimeter of the park were once home to some of France’s most important figures, including Victor Hugo and Cardinale Richelieu. The beautiful park itself is a perfect place to stretch out on the grass and have a picnic.

Or, you might want to sit under the arcades at Café Hugo (22 Place des Vosges) across from the park for brunch or just to have coffee. Gurgling fountains and the sound of children playing make it a perfect spot to sit and soak up Paris life. You can even bring your laptop, since Place des Vosges is one of the public areas of the city that has free wi-fi.

Collin Kelley just returned from Europe, where he traveled and guest lectured on social media at Worcester College at Oxford University. He is the author of the novel Conquering Venus and three collections of poetry. Read his blog on Red Room. The photos above are all courtesy Collin Kelley. The above photos are all copyright Collin Kelley.