Tag Archives: France

The Eiffel Tower for Jordan

The following posting is by special request from Diane’s relative Jordon who is 8 years old (almost 9).  He was recently studying the Eiffel Tower at school.  His grandma Esther had us over for a great dinner (with birthday cake!) just before our departure, and Jordan requested that we send him a picture of the tower.  This is for you Jordan.


The Eiffel Tower is known in France as Le Tour Eiffel.  It is a large tower made of iron located in Paris, France.  Its nickname in French is La Dame de Fer (The Iron Lady).  It has become a symbol of France and is one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889.  That’s 15 of your lifetimes ago, but around the same time that your Grandma Esther was born.  It was built for L’Exposition Universelle (The World’s Fair) by engineer Gustave Eiffel, after whom it is named.  Originally it was disliked by many Parisians and so was almost torn down in 1909, but was spared because it turned out to be an ideal place for radio antennas.

The Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in France.  It is 320 meters tall which is about the same height as a 90 story building.  At the time it was built, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world.

About 7 million people go to the top of the Eiffel Tower each year.  You can walk up to the first two platforms of the tower but you must take an elevator to get to the very top.  It takes over 300 steps to reach each platform.  We decided to walk up because we needed the exercise!

Diane posing on a landing of the Eiffel Tower steps

Diane posing on a landing of the over 600 steps we climbed

Patrick climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower

Patrick is hot on her heels!

The iron tower must be protected with paint to stop it from rusting.  It takes 50 to 60 tonnes of paint to cover it, and it must be painted every 7 years.  Would you like that job?  It is currently painted brown but they do change the colour occasionally.

Looking up from the base of the Eiffel Tower

Looking up from the base of the Eiffel Tower

The height of the Eiffel Tower changes with the temperature.  In the heat of summer it grows up to 15 centimeters taller as the metal expands.

Diane with umbrella in front of the Eiffel Tower

Diane in the rain in front of the Eiffel Tower

We hope that you have enjoyed this story about the Eiffel Tower.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment on the blog and we’ll write back to you.

My Birthday in Paris (Guest Post)

The following is a special ‘guest’ post written by my wife Diane. Thank-you Diane!  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.


Paris.  I have long dreamed of the day that I would visit this wonderful city.  I always envisioned it to be romantic, chic and alluring in a peaceful kind of way.  For me it was all of that.

Thanks to Patrick’s perfect planning we arrived in Paris on my birthday.  We got up early and took a train into Paris.  The 45 minute journey only helped to build my anticipation.  The weather was not the best (windy, cold and with rain on and off), but how could I complain when I was headed for Paris.

Of course our first day in Paris would not be complete without a tiny bit of excitement.  We began at a quaint café for a small bite to eat and some espresso.  A perfect way to start my day.  We ordered a toasted baguette sandwich (very French) and a café Americano (not so French).  We were ready to go with the coffee and baguette in hand, but had difficulty paying.   Neither our visa nor our bank card would work at this shop, and we did not have enough Euros with us as we hadn’t been to a bank machine yet in France.  The very nice man behind the counter (originally from Afghanistan and who spoke excellent English) told us where there was a bank machine.  Patrick set off and I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Of course I drank my coffee, but thought I best hold off on the sandwich in case no money arrived.  Patrick was gone for what seemed like hours.  At one point the nice man said, “He’s gone a long time.”  I smiled and agreed, not sure what else to say.  What I was thinking was “do you want your sandwich back?”  After another 10 minutes went by the nice man said he thought I should go look for Patrick.  I really thought I should stay put.  There’s no use both of us being lost, but he was insistent.  So off I went.  I had no idea where I was going but thought I would walk around for a minute to make it look good.  I was relieved to see Patrick as I was heading back to the coffee shop.  It turns out that the two bank machines that he found (both from the same bank) would also not accept our debit card so he ended up having to take a small cash advance on his Visa.  We paid the nice man (he even reheated my sandwich), and we were finally off to see the Eiffel Tower.

Métro train arriving at an underground station in Paris

The Paris Métropolitain

It was a short subway ride from the café.  As we approached our stop I was really getting excited.  We exited the train and headed up the stairs to the street.  I turned around and there it was, larger than life.

Patrick and Diane in front of the Eiffel Tower

As I first lay eyes on this magnificent structure I gasped!  I am not sure what I expected but it was much bigger than I thought.  I wouldn’t call it beautiful though.  It’s an enormous metal structure painted brown.  For me the beauty came from its size, strength and view of the city.  There were huge lines to take the elevator, so we hiked up the stairs to the viewing platform, not letting the howling wind and rain deter us.  When we reached the top the view of Paris was stunning.  I loved it.

View North from the Eiffel Tower

View North from the Eiffel Tower

We spent the rest of the day wandering the famous boulevards of Paris.  We finished off the day with an incredible French dinner, some great wine and a lovely birthday kiss.  It was the best birthday.

A staircase leading to the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background


The prospect of writing about Paris is a bit daunting for me.  How to do justice to the “La Ville-Lumière“ (The City of Light)?  “La Ville d l’Amour” (The City of Love)?  How do I say something fresh about what is perhaps the most sought-after tourist destination in the most visited country on the planet?

Image of Paris at night taken from Montmartre

Paris at night from Montmartre

I can say that ever since I’ve known my wife Diane, she has wanted to visit Paris.  No specific reasons that I know of, just a strong, inexplicable attraction to a place she’s never been.  I’ve been telling people for months that if we visit France again and don’t make it to Paris, I might be coming home alone.  And so it was that we decided to head directly for Paris, to avoid any potential marital discord.  Actually, we drove right past Paris to the town of Fontainebleau, about 55 kilometers south-east of Paris, which is the home of our friend Bart, whom we first met with his friend Evelyn in southern Tanzania in 2009 and traveled with together through Malawi and again in Zambia.

Fontainebleau is a beautiful and historic city.  It is completely surrounded by a large and scenic forest, the former royal hunting park of France’s kings.  It is also the location of the Chateau de Fontainebleau, a large palace where the kings of France and Napoleon used to hang out.

The chateau was originally a hunting lodge but was expanded into a true palace around 1500 CE by Francois I.  For 300 years, French Kings continued to expand the Chateau to its current 1500+ rooms, with 130 acres of courtyards and beautiful gardens.  Napoleon Bonaparte kept the ailing Pope Pius VII prisoner here for 18 months from June 1812 until July 1814, and it was from here that Napoleon departed for his exile to the island of Elba after giving a moving speech to his troops from the steps in what is now known as the “Courtyard of Goodbyes”.

The stairs in the Courtyard of Goodbyes

Fontainebleau is also the world’s most developed and famous bouldering site.  The forest surrounding the city is scattered with boulders that are scaled by climbers from around the world.  It rained on and off the whole time we were there, so it was always too wet for bouldering, but we did go for a run in the forest on the day of our departure.

Patrick running on a wide train in the forest surrounding Fontainebleau

Running but no climbing in the forest of Fontainebleau

Fontainebleau became our base for 6 days.  We parked the S&M Motel on the street in front of a school just steps from Bart’s apartment (it was a school holiday week so the space was unused).  We spent the first two nights at Bart’s place (he generously gave up his large bed for us) and when his girlfriend Isabel arrived, we just stayed in the camper.  We shared several meals with Bart and Isabel, including one night at the very fancy French restaurant at the local equestrian center (a far cry from the Keg in the Country restaurant where I worked in the early 1980’s!)

Patrick, Diane, Bart, and Isabel at dinner

Why does Bart get both the ladies?

We spent 3 days in Paris.  Each day we took the train from Fontainebleau (about 45 minutes) into Paris’s Gare de Lyon station and from there we walked or used the efficient Metro (subway) to get around Paris.  We managed to see many of Paris’ famous sites:

  • Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris – the 12th century cathedral located on Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine river, and home of the famous hunchback in Victor Hugo’s novel
The exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral from across the river Seine

Cathedral of 'Our Lady'

  • Ste-Chapelle – a gothic chapel located inside the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) that was built to hold the holy relics of Louis IX, but is now visited for its amazing stained glass
  • The Eiffel Tower – more about this in an upcoming post
  • Le Champs Élysées – a promenade connecting L’Arc de Triomphe (a Roman arch built to celebrate Napolean’s victories) to Place de la Concorde (site of the infamous guillotine during the French Revolution, but which now contains a 3300 year old granite obelisk that once stood in the Temple of Ramses in Luxor)
  • Musée du Louvre – the massive art museum that is home to the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa
The Louvre from the clock window of the Musee D'Orsay across the river

The Louvre from the clock window of the Musee D'Orsay across the river

  • Musée d’Orsay – in a beautiful converted train station, it houses France’s national collection of art from the 1840’s to 1914, including the Impressionists.  We preferred this museum to the Louvre.
Main hall of the Musee D'Orsay from the upper balcony

Main hall of the Musee D'Orsay

  • Montmartre – a butte overlooking Paris and the Moulin Rouge, home to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and the bohemian artists of the turn of the 20th century like Toulouse Lautrec
  • Hotel des Invalides – built in the 1670’s as a home for disabled veterans, it is now a park containing the army museum and 2 churches where many French soldiers are buried, including Napoleon.
  • Musée Rodin – a museum of Rodin’s sculptures with a lovely garden where we had a picnic lunch before viewing The Thinker
The Thinker taken from below with the sky in the background

The Thinker

  • La Rive Gauche – another famous promenade along the ‘left bank’ (the south side of the Seine), which passes Pont Neuf (a bridge from Île de la Cité to both banks of the Seine)
Patrick with a Paris guidebook on the riverbank with the left bank in the background

Le Rive Gauche in the background

  • Chateau de Versailles – France’s grandest royal residence, built by Louis XIV (‘The Sun King’) and located 21 kilometers outside Paris in the suburb or Versailles

Paris is a great city for walking.  Despite the on-and-off rain, we enjoyed wandering around looking at the many places we’d only read about or seen in movies.  Of course, we only scratched the surface of Paris.  There are many more neighbourhoods, museums, and galleries to explore should we return.

But now I can rest easy knowing that Diane has seen her great white whale.

Le Marseillaise

Le Marseillaise is the national anthem of France. It was named after the city of Marseille, which sits on the southern coast of France on the Mediterranean, and which has never been the capital city. I wondered how this came about.

Le Marseillaise was written and composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792 and was originally titled “Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin” (War Song for the Army of the Rhine). It was penned at a time when France was under attack by Prussia and Austria. Although the song was originally dedicated to Marshal Nicolas Luckner, a Bavarian in French service, the melody soon became a rallying call for the French Revolution. It became known as La Marseillaise after it was sung on the streets of Paris by volunteers from Marseille.

Following the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the French Revolution in 1792, and the decapitation of King Louis XVI and his bride Marie Antoinette in 1793, monarchies across Europe were understandably worried. If the French principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, and brotherhood) spread, this would be bad news for nobles all across Europe. Partly out of fear, but also sensing an opportunity take advantage of apparent French disorganization, Britain, Spain, The Netherlands, Austria, Piedmont, and Prussia all battled France at the same time.

The battled-hardened French Revolutionaries welcomed the fight, and saw it as an opportunity to spread their revolutionary principles and to liberate the rest of Europe. The French soldiers were citizens motivated by principle and fared well against the apathetic armies of the other European nations, but they lacked the leadership necessary to wage large scale war (a gap which would soon be filled by Napoleon).

The French National Convention adopted Le Marseillaise as the Republic’s anthem in 1795, making it France’s first anthem. Although it lost this status temporarily under Napoleon and subsequent leaders, in 1879 it was restored as France’s national anthem and has remained so ever since.

There is a movement afoot to soften the words of Le Marseillaise, saying that perhaps it is not becoming for a modern nation such as France. It is shocking to think these words are taught to and sung by French children today, but one must remember when and under what conditions it was written and how it became significant.

Here are the words, translated into English, of the first verse and chorus most often sung.

Let’s go, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us of tyranny
The bloody banner is raised (repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They are coming nearly into our arms,
To cut the throats of our sons and women!

To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let’s march, Let’s march!
That an impure blood
Waters our furrows!

I find it very interesting that this battle cry, intended to anger and rally French revolutionaries over 200 year ago, has survived as their national anthem today. If I was 6-year-old Jacques, learning the words for the first time, I might be worried that they were coming to slit my throat, or perhaps whether French produce was contaminated. For a nation that many Americans regularly criticize as being ‘yella’, they sure have a kick-ass national anthem.

Impressions of France

  • The stereotype of French people as snobbish hasn’t been our experience. Most are nice to us.
  • French people kiss when they greet and say goodbye. Usually an alternating kiss on both cheeks, with an optional third kiss on the initial cheek. Both men and women do this, with members of the same and opposite sexes. I saw people at a large business going around and kissing everyone in the morning as part of their daily greeting.
  • We haven’t seen a lot of berets, but both men and woman like to wear scarves. Many men also carry shoulder bags, which can resemble purses.
  • Most of the people Patrick speaks to in French voluntarily switch to English in short order, or give him a blank stare as if his pronunciation is so terrible as to be unintelligible. Perhaps he should have studied harder in high school.
  • People prefer to shop for small quantities of fresh food daily. There are markets several times a week in almost every city, and people pick fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses from the fine selection offered (smaller shops but more selection).
  • Bread is purchased daily. Fresh baguettes cost about 1 Euro ($1.45 Canadian). They have no preservatives and seem to retain their amazing fresh-baked crustiness for 4 to 6 hours, after which they are fit for toasting only.
  • Pain au ChocolatThe baking is excellent. There are even more bakeries (boulangeries) and pastry shops (patisseries) than in Italy. They serve a variety of tasty treats, including the chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat) that Diane can’t get enough of.
  • Yes, they really do eat frogs’ legs and rabbits here. We were in the market this morning and we saw a butcher with a large selection of whole skinned rabbits and rabbit parts in his display case. Diane was shocked when she saw three whole dead rabbits in the case also, still in their fur. The butchers also seem to carry a greater variety of meats including hearts, intestine, etc.
  • French people will drink wine at any time of the day. We’ve seen what appear to be normal people drinking wine at 9 AM at brunch. Generally though, the French aren’t big on breakfast, preferring an espresso and a croissant or other pastry.
  • In many places, McDonald’s doesn’t open until 9 or 10 AM. They don’t serve breakfast either, but they do have free Wi-Fi and cheap coffee for Diane.
  • The famous bouillabaisse (seafood stew) of France’s second largest city Marseilles is too rich for our blood. One serving costs about 50 Euro (about 75 dollars), with cheaper imitations of soupe de poisson (fish soup) abounding.
  • French people are not good at cleaning up after their dogs. In some cities (yes, you Marseilles), you need to be vigilant as sidewalk turds are commonplace. We even saw one that had a small flag fashioned with a toothpick pole stuck in it, perhaps a political statement from a crap crusader. It seems like it would be easier to just clean it up than to raise a flag on it. It reminded me of India, but cow shit is easier to spot.
  • Like in Italy, almost everything is closed on Sundays. Only a few restaurants, some museums, movie cinemas, and the occasional bakery stay open. Museums and some other attractions are often closed on Mondays. Closures and holidays need to be considered when planning what to do.
  • There is a lot of Roman history in Southern France. Some of the best preserved examples of Roman theatres, amphitheatres, arenas, and aqueducts are here. Two thousand years old with little or no maintenance and still looking good. I wonder how long my house would stand if I did no maintenance? 40 years?