Tour Paris By Zeppelin

Looking for a way to avoid the tourist crowds in Paris? You might try looking up. Airship Paris is a new company offering tours of the French countryside around Paris by zeppelin.

Tickets range from 250 euro for a half-hour “first flight” tour of the castles around Vexin (including the Villette Castle from “The Da Vinci Code” movie), to 650 euro for a royal tour of Versailles with Paris in the background. Flights take off from the Pontoise airport about 25 miles from Paris. The 250-foot-long airship carries up to 12 passengers and cruises at an altitude equivalent to the Eiffel Tower.

After takeoff, you are free to take in the views from the panoramic windows, sitting or standing. Unlike a hot-air balloon or blimp, the zeppelin is wind-resistant and heavier than air, with a low level of vibration and noise (the company compares it to that of a dishwasher). Airship Paris is the first commercial airship service in the area in 30 years.

Read more and book tickets here.

On Bastille Day, Versailles is the place to be

Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day in France. Its a national day that celebrates the storming of the Bastille, a Parisian armory and prison, in 1789 and a symbolic event of the French Revolution. The Palace of Versailles is now a major tourist attraction and one of the largest palaces in the world. Once the official residence of the Kings of France, mobs marched on Versailles and carried Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI away to Paris. Ultimately, in 1793, they were led to the guillotine.

Today, tourists pay 13 euros (about $18) to visit the 18,000 square metre palace that has 2,000 windows and 1,250 fireplaces but many visitors will spend today relaxing on the grounds.

“…best bet is to do what Parisians do: pack a picnic (a baguette, brie, foie gras, grapes, salad, chocolate, wine and a blanket, or hotel towels) from the city and head for a shady tree on the far side of the Grand Canal, getting you away from the crowds and into a spot to view from a distance the exquisite rear of the chateau, or “the garden side,” as Voltaire called it” says the Toronto Star.

Best wishes to our friends in France who US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “a dedicated and enduring partner to the American people” yesterday in a statement commemorating France’s National Day.

Flickr photo by OliverN5



Visit the Palace of Versailles in France

Warsaw, Poland: an up-and-coming European museum destination

European museum destination
As an EU member with a good exchange rate and low prices, Poland is becoming a popular tourist destination in Eastern Europe. Most of the love goes to Krakow, with its original architecture and “new Prague” charm, but capital city Warsaw has plenty to offer as a European museum destination. While much of the old town was leveled in World War II, the restorations have been painstakingly done and the tumultuous history makes for a great basis for museum exhibitions.

Like Berlin, Warsaw has embraced its past and given the visitor plenty to learn from and new investments mean state-of-the-art attractions and exhibitions.

Given all of the places to see, Warsaw could easily fill a week (or two) on a Europe trip. Here’s a look at some of Warsaw’s best museums.
Only-in-Warsaw

Warsaw (Up)Rising Museum – Warsaw’s proudest museum is a hi-tech interactive experience detailing the events of the two-month rebellion of the Polish people against the German forces as well as what preceded and followed. It borders on being overly comprehensive, the hundreds of artifacts can overwhelm, as can the crowds who line up daily. Be sure to follow museum signs as you walk through, as the chronological exhibit doesn’t necessarily follow the logical path.

Gestapo Headquarters and Pawiak Prison – Two of the city’s most unassuming buildings were once the most feared. Not as flashy as the Rising Museum but equally effective, the former Gestapo HQ contains a few stark cells that once held prisoners to be interrogated and often tortured before being taken to the prison, along with very professionally-done interactive displays telling the experiences of the poor souls held there. Most of the prison in the former Jewish ghetto has been destroyed, but dozens of artifacts and exhibits explain the prisoners’ conditions and attempt to describe the horrors that happened there.


Fryderyk Chopin Museum – Another hi-tech, multimedia extravaganza, this brand new space dedicated to Poland’s most famous composer goes beyond the usual exhibition with a fully customizable experience. Sample sounds from a rare score, read letters to the important women in Chopin’s life, and see a recreation of his Paris drawing room.

Palace of Culture and Science – Not so much a museum as a gift Warsaw can’t hide away, the tallest building in Poland was a gift from Joseph Stalin and it’s hard to go anywhere in the city without seeing the Soviet beast. Though the building is enormous, not much of it is open to the public. It’s worth a trip to the terrace for panoramic city views (see above photo) or spend an afternoon making sense of the bizarrely curated Museum of Technology.

Want more history? There are also museums dedicated to the Polish People’s Movement and Polish Independence, plus the many churches and monuments of the restored Old City and Krakowskie Przedmiescie street. Warsaw’s Jewish culture is also well-documented at the new Jewish Museum and Wola district historical museum.

Well-done in Warsaw


Center for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle – A few blocks away from the Gestapo Headquarters, the building has a history as a royal residence, medical hospital, and now modern art museum. Some of the most innovative artists in Poland and Europe are showcased here: November saw a show focused on Internet-shaped culture such as a scrolling display of Twitter results for the phrase “Best day ever.”


Warsaw Zoo – In addition to being a nicely-maintained habitat for animals, this zoo has a fascinating and heroic past. Diane Ackerman’s book The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the story of the zoo director who aided in war efforts and saved many Jewish Poles from the Nazis by hiding them in the animal cages.


Royal Castle and Wilanow Palace – Just outside the Old City, the Royal Castle was also rebuilt from scratch and houses a slew of antiques and artwork, as well as excellent temporary exhibitions such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” and other treasures from other museums. If you visit in good weather, it’s worth a day out of town to visit the grand Wilanow Palace and gardens, the Polish Versailles.

Not exhausted yet? Small museums also specialize in collections of cars, trains, military weaponry, horse-riding, caricatures, and Polish physicist Marie Curie. See the In Your Pocket Warsaw guide for more info.


Luxury hotel to open at Palace at Versailles

There’s no better place to sleep like a king than at the Palace of Versailles, and now travelers might just get their chance.

NPR reports that a building at the cherished cultural landmark, home to the French monarchy since Louis XIV, will soon be turned into a five-star luxury hotel. The luxury hotel will stand about one hundred yards from the main palace.

versailles

“Known as the Hotel du Grand Controle, the mansion was built in the 1680s to serve as the offices and home of the king’s treasurer, where he lived with his family and servants. The Hotel du Grand Control was evacuated, along with the rest of Versailles, during the French Revolution. In the 19th and 20th centuries it fell into further disrepair,” Mikael Hautchamp, deputy administrator for the Palace of Versailles, told NPR. The story goes on to say that Versailles turned toBelgian hotel company Ivy International to fund and renovate the mansion into a 23-bedroom luxury hotel.

While there’s certainly some concern about turning a treasured monument into a hotel, opening a luxury hotel in Versailles would give travelers with a passion for history a chance to ‘live’ at Versailles, if only briefly.

The hotel, which will be called Hotel de l’Orangerie, is slated to open in January 2012. Rumor has it when the hotel officially opens, guests will be given champagne and access to stroll the famous gardens of Versailles, which haven’t been strolled in some 300 years.

[For the full story, read the NPR article]

Louvre, Versailles, Mont Saint-Michel on strike alert tomorrow

Workers at Paris’ modern art center Pompidou are already on strike over planned job cuts, but those at other French museums and landmarks could join in their fight tomorrow.

Seven unions are threatening to walk off the job on December 2nd if their demands aren’t met by the MInistry of Culture. They’re boycotting the government’s plan to cut cultural positions, which would replace only one out of every two civil servants who retire.

The Pompidou Center is Paris’ second most popular museum. If the cuts move forward, 400 of the museum’s 1,100 jobs could be cut over the next 10 years. More than 40 percent of workers there are 50 years or older.

Other tourist sites potentially shutting down during the strike are Notre Dame, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Pantheon. However, the Eiffel Tower would not be affected.