Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Hip, New Way to Experience Paris - Le Marais Street Art Polaroid Tour with Mon Beau Paris

Polaroid photos taken during Le Marais Street Art Polaroid Tour with Mon Beau Paris

Whether they're family, friends or complete strangers, people frequently ask me some variation of the following two questions when they start planning their vacations in Paris:

I've already seen all the touristy sights. What's something different/unique/off the beaten path that I can do?
What should I do with my teenagers/children?

Up until recently, I've responded with some fairly standard answers about the catacombs, sewers of Paris and Pari-Roller's weekly Friday night get-together to rollerblade through the streets of the city. Now, thanks to Mon Beau Paris, I have a new response. Try Le Marais Street Art Polaroid Tour!

While Mon Beau Paris isn't the first company to offer street art tours of the French capital, what I found intriguing when they invited me to join one of their tours is that Mon Beau Paris provides their guests with Polaroid cameras to immortalize their favorite street art on film.

Jef Aérosol's "Chut!" ("Hush!") by the Centre Pompidou is a
reminder to listen to the sounds around you.

"This tour is never the same," explained our guide, "because street art is constantly changing." While Aurélie, who is an official licensed guide with a background in art history, told us about the history of street art and defined some important terms, like graffiti and tagging, other members of the Mon Beau Paris team distributed Polaroid cameras and much appreciated bottles of water to quench our thirst on a hot Parisian day.

Strolling along the familiar streets of the Marais, I found myself looking up, down and all around as Aurélie taught us to distinguish between works by Jef Aérosol, Le Diamantaire and M. Chat. The neighborhood took on a new dimension as we scanned the walls for stickers or words. While some artists use urban spaces to provoke thought or make statements about socially relevant themes, others view street art as a way to share their creations freely with the world.

The Polaroid cameras are a brilliant addition to the tour because they provide an innovative way for visitors to interact with street art and create entirely new pieces of art. I'm so pleased with my Polaroid photos that I'm planning to make a framed collage with them. It will be a uniquely different souvenir of a fun afternoon in Paris.

Mon Beau Paris
34 rue de Cléry
75006 PARIS

Mon Beau Paris currently has a 5/5 rating on Trip Advisor.

Tip: After juggling two cameras and my iPhone during the tour, I would suggest leaving your regular camera at home. If you want to take digital photos of the street art, you can always retrace your steps at a later time. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing.  

iPhone photos taken during Le Marais Street Art Polaroid Tour with Mon Beau Paris 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Climb to the top of the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral for one of the best views of Paris!

Stryga, the most famous of the chimera at Notre Dame Cathedral, observing the ever-changing city.

Like Stryga, the most famous of the chimera at Notre Dame Cathedral, I was frozen in place while I gazed at the cityscape of Paris yesterday evening. Tourists with backpacks jostled behind me as I turned my head slowly from Sacré-Cœur Basilica perched high on a bluff to the golden dome of Les Invalides in the distance. The muted sounds of street performers and boats on the river Seine heightened my sense of detachment from the crowd below. Not even the romantic couple with their arms around each other made me regret that Stéphane was on a train and I was there alone. For I wasn't really by myself. Fantastic birds, hybrid beasts and mythical monsters entertained me while I waited for sunset to mark the end of another day.

Notre Dame Cathedral

More than four years, that's how long I had waited to climb the 387 steps to the top of the South Tower. With hindsight, it seems silly that I postponed seeing one of the most spectacular views of Paris for such a long time. I had been waiting until all of the conditions were perfect. When the late evening sunshine illuminated the facade of Notre Dame yesterday evening, I decided that it was finally time to make the ascent.

My heart sank when I turned the corner of the cathedral and saw the long line of other people who had exactly the same idea. Fortunately, I hung around long enough to learn that the wait wasn't expected to last more than 20 minutes. Reading "Towers of Notre-Dame", a brochure distributed to all the visitors standing in line, helped to pass the time.

Emmanuel, Notre Dame's largest bell

One of the unexpected bonuses was the opportunity to see Notre Dame's largest bell, which weighs more than 13 tons. Emmanuel's clapper alone weighs 500 kilos! The 17th century bell is only rung on major Catholic feast days, whereas four other bells in the north tower peal several times a day.

Reluctant to leave the top of the tower, I waited until the very last minute to begin my descent. That's when the evening star made it's appearance in the west.

This lucky Chimera at Notre Dame Cathedral has a view of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower!

On Friday and Saturday evenings in July and August, the Towers of Notre Dame are open until 11:00 pm. Last entrance is 45 minutes before closure.

From April 1 until September 30, the towers are open every day from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm. From October 1 to March 31, they're open from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. The towers are closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25.

There are 387 steps (no elevator) to the top of the tower so it's best to be in good shape.

Paris, as seen from the top of the south tower of Notre Dame Cathedral

Thursday, July 9, 2015

L'Hermione 2015: Bringing Lafayette Back to Life!

L'Hermione's arrival in New York City. Photo credit: Cissy Paul

Guest post by Cissy Paul

After $32 million and an eighteen year endeavor, L'Hermione departed from Rochefort, France on April 18, 2015. The Marquis de Lafayette's mottos, "Why Not?" and "Anything is Possible", have come to fruition once again with the help of artisans from all over the world, thus bridging the gap between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries.

The nineteen year old French aristocrat, who volunteered to serve with General George Washington, played a vital role in the American Revolutionary War. When Lafayette returned to America aboard L'Hermione in April 1780, he brought fresh hope with the welcome news that King Louis XVI had agreed to send a French Expeditionary Force of 6,000 elite troops, artillery pieces, munitions, ships and money. It was a key turning point during America's war against the British.

Captain Yann Cariou and Chief Mate Charlene Gicquel of L'Hermione.
Photo credit: Cissy Paul Photography

In order for the exact replica of L'Hermione to be deemed seaworthy in the twenty-first century, the Coast Guard required only three changes: an engine, latrines and women. Captain Yann Cariou and Chief Mate Charlene Gicquel lead the crew of 74 of which one third are women. Adam Hodges-LeClair plays a distinguished, confident Marquis Lafayette, who takes his role seriously.

Young students from French lycées, sponsors, journalists, musicians, tourists and L'Hermione enthusiasts arrived in New York City on the first of July. While observing the docking process and mingling aboard the frigate, I witnessed brawn, team work, exuberance and a zest for adventure. After sailing for more than two months, the crew met us with fresh smiling faces and an eagerness to share this vital oral history.

Cissy Paul with Robert Boulitrop

I had a special interest in one of the guests, 93 year old Robert Boulitrop, from Charleville Mezieres, France. After observing that I was photographing him (appreciating his French characteristics) we began talking and I teasingly asked if I could join him for the ceremony! He responded, "Oui, if you will marry me!!". We are email friends now and what a treasured memory I have.

As part of the Heritage Village, some of the other events included a quay side outdoor museum of the history of the original frigate and the back story of the replica. Storytelling, musicians, reenactments, daily deck tours and a private evening on board provided additional entertainment.

L'Hermione's crew greets the spectators in New York City with a song! Photo credit: Cissy Paul

On Friday, July 3, the Lower Manhattan Historical Society sponsored the first Fourth of July parade in forty years. It went from Wall Street, where George Washington was sworn in as America's first president at Federal Hall, to Bowling Green. Guest speakers shared historical events, of which Lafayette played a vital role, including the raising of the first flag with the original thirteen colonies in the exact spot where we congregated. What made this ceremony so special was that both the French and American flags were raised while their respective national anthems were played.

Saturday, spectators gathered to watch the Parade of Ships showcasing L'Hermione as she was surrounded by a hundred ships sailing from the Verrazano Bridge area to the USS Intrepid. At this point, L'Hermione turned and headed to Govenors Island, docking for the last time for a private event and Macy's Fireworks! The French frigate set sail for its next destination later that night.

View of L'Hermione from the ferry. Photo credit: Cissy Paul Photography

Taking the ferry to Govenors Island after the flotilla, I wanted to gaze one last time at this magnificent ship; so appreciative was I of the opportunity to witness history in the making. As the ferry pulled away headed for Brooklyn, a French mother and her toddler called out many times, "Au revoir bateau!" ("Goodbye boat").

As many have said, Lady Liberty was the second gift France gave to America. L'Hermione and Lafayette were the first.

Well-planned events throughout the French frigate's four-day stay would not have been possible without the support of Moët Hennessy, the Grand Sponsor; Tall Ships of America, Founding Maritime Partner; Poitou Charentes Region of France; the French Embassy and the New York Parks and Recreation Association.

Cissy Paul: Cajun, wife, retired Elementary Education teacher, mother & grandmother.
Lover of geology, bridges, photography, architecture, history, fashion, reading/research, parks and the arts. Enjoys daily serendipitous moments whilst exploring on holiday or NYC's five boroughs. Member of the Central Park Conservancy Horticulture Volunteers (gardener) and the NY Walker's Club (Saturday Race-walking at Central Park).

Follow Cissy's exploits on Facebook: Cissy Paul, Instagram: passionfornyc and Twitter: @cissypaul.

Cissy Paul with L'Hermione's bell