Category Archives: Paris

25 Paris Metro Stations: How did they get their names?

Ever sat on the tube in Paris wondering how the stations came by their names?

Maybe not, but I have, so I thought I’d do a spot of research on some of the more interesting-sounding names.

Many Paris metro stations are named after wars and generals and I’m not very much interested in those ones, to be honest – although there are two or three army-related names on the list. Here goes:

1. Bienvenüe

Bienvenue

Named after the chief engineer of the Metro, Fulgence Bienvenüe:

Fulgence Bienvenüe

Fulgence Bienvenüe (br.wikipedia.org)

Fulgence was fondly known as “Le Père du Métro”

This station was originally called Avenue du Maine and was renamed in his honour in the presence of the great man himself. The station signs had been hurriedly painted over before the day of the ceremony but were missing the dieresis (the two dots in his surname). This meant that for a time the station was literally known as Station Welcome

It was later fused with Montparnasse to create Montparnasse-Bienvenüe, the fourth busiest station in Paris.

2. Tuileries

Ceramic tile photo

Tuileries – where they made tiles

The Tuileries palace and gardens, after which the station was named, was itself named after the tile factories that stood on the site before Catherine de Médicis had the palace built in 1564. The palace itself was demolished in 1871.

3. Marcadet-Poissoniers

Colourful fish picture

A fish

Two stations joined together. Marcadet is named after the Rue Marcadet (from the Latin mercadus for market), and Poissoniers after Rue Poissoniers – an ancient route from the north down which fish sellers trod to sell their wares at Les Halles market.

4. Châtelet

Lego castle picture

Little castle

Literally “little chateau” (although confusingly this particular castle was named the Grand Châtelet (“big little castle”) to differentiate it from one across the river) which was built by Louis the Gros in 1130 and extended to become one of Paris’ more sinister edifices.

It was a centre of administration, housed a court, a prison and a morgue which was useful to house the bodies of burned witches and tortured villains. Counterfeiters were boiled in the building…

Not a pleasant place. It was eventually demolished in 1810.

5. Oberkampf

Rue Oberkampf sign picture

Rue Oberkampf sign

Named after a German industrialist, Philippe Oberkampf. He was the creator of the famous Toiles de Jouy in Jouy-en-Josas in north-central France in 1859.

This is him and the family in front of the Jouy factory:

Christophe Philippe Oberkampf et famille

Christophe Philippe Oberkampf et famille

Interestingly, his daughter Émilie was the pioneer of the nursery school in France, copying the British example.

6. Chateau d’Eau

Geyser picture

Paris fountain. Well, no – but I do love pictures of geysers.

Lovely name – not so lovely area in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

The metro station was named after a Nubian Lions fountain designed by Pierre-Simon Girard which originally stood in the Place du Chateau d’Eau, which is now confusingly Place de la Republique. The fountain itself has been moved to Parc de la Villette. Here it is:

Nubian Lions Fountain, Paris

Nubian Lions Fountain (lehavreblog.blogspot.com)

7. Nation

Flags of all nations picture

Flags of all nations

The station is named after the square, Place de la Nation, formerly known as Place du Trône, after a throne placed there to welcome Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse into the city in 1660.

During the revolution the square was cheekily named Place du Trône Renversé when the guillotine was situated there and officially renamed as Place de la Nation in honour of Bastille Day, 1880.

8. Glacière

Glacier picture

Lovely picture of a glacier

The station is named after the Rue la Glacière (iceworks street). The street name came about because the lakes and ponds in this area of the 13th arrondissement used to form  large quantities of ice.

In the pre-fridge era iceworks were built to gather and keep the ice through the summer months.

9. Pyramides

Giza pyramids picture

These are pyramids

Named after the Napoleonic victory at the Battle of the Pyramids (or Embabeh) in Egypt in 1798, rather than the big glass one at the Louvre.

10. LA DÉFENSE

Statue of La Defense, Paris

Statue at La Defense (wikimapia.org)

Named after the statue La Défense de Paris by Louis Ernest Barrias, which was erected in 1883 to commemorate the soldiers who had defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

La Defense monument (wikipedia)

La Defense monument (wikipedia)

That very same man is also reponsible for “Nature unveiling herself to science”, now housed at the Musée d’Orsay.

11. Argentine

Map of Argentina

Map of Argentina

Originally named Obligado, after the street at the Trocadero where it sits. The street was named after the Battle of Vuelta de Obligado, an Anglo-French victory over the Argentine Republic in 1845. However, it was renamed in May 1948, when the Rue itself was re-named d’Argentine as a mark of respect to Argentina. That country had helped France out during WWII, providing grain and beef to keep the population fed.

There’s some lovely artwork down there – eight pictures, each representing a different bit of Argentina, and they were officially welcomed in June 2011 by the Argentinian ambassador and minister for tourism.

12. Porte Dauphine

Renault Dauphine (philseed.com)

Renault Dauphine

Named after one of the old city gates of Paris, Porte Dauphine, it has one of the only two art nouveau aedicules designed by Hector Guimard that remain – the other one is at Abbesses. (Isn’t aedicule a great word? – never came across it before!) The original gate was part of the Thiers wall which surrounded Paris, built between 1841 and 1844.

This station is right at the Bois de Boulogne which incidentally has a film named after it – highly recommended – Les Dames de Bois de Boulogne, an elegant melodrama from Robert Bresson.

13. Barbès – Rochechouart

Tati Logo

Oddly this station opened in 1903 as the Boulevard Barbès station but was renamed 8 days later as Barbès – Rochechouart.

Armand Barbès was a well-off Guadeloupan revolutionary and bane of the establishment who had a habit of getting himself thrown into prison. He ended his days in exile in the Netherlands. Baroness de Rochechouart de Montpipeau on the other hand, was the 43rd abbess of Montmartre (the Boulevard de Rochechouart, one of the stations named after her lies at the bottom of the hill of Montmartre.)

Here’s a blog post on the Barbès market held on Wednesdays and Saturday, and the other famous shopping opportunity at Boulevard de Rochechouart is the Tati store: spread over numerous different shops it sells copious amounts of cheap clothing and household goods. Unmissable with it’s pink and white gingham signs.

There’s a fine blog post on the area around the station and Quirky Travel’s own post on the newly reopened Louxor Cinema, also in the area.

14. Télégraphe

Design for Chappe's telegraph tower

Design for Chappe’s telegraph tower, Paris

Named after the Rue de Télégraphe, which was itself inspired by the invention of Claude Chappe, the optical telegraph. This was basically a system where towers with two arms connected by a central arm would signal by semaphore to another tower. They were placed between 10 and 12 miles apart. The first successful relay was accomplished between Paris and Lille n 1792.

The towers were superseded by the electric telegraph, the last ones ceasing to function in 1852.

Incidentally, telegraph means “far writer” in ancient Greek.

Chappe, depressed, committed suicide by throwing himself into a well in 1805.

15.GOBELINS

Goblin picture
Not this sort of goblin

The world-renowned Gobelins tapestry factory was named after the Gobelin fabric dying family whose workplace on the outskirts of Paris Henry IV turned into a tapestry establishment.

16. Porte Dorée

Golden Gate

Golden Gate

The original Porte Dorée was a gate in the Thiers wall, one of the last defensive walls built to protect Parus. I presume it was golden (dorée) but haven’t been able to find out anything about the gate itself.

In the area sits a building called the Porte Dorée that housed the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, then became a little-visited museum of African and Oceanic arts (its artefacts are now in the excellent Quai Branly museum) and is now a museum of immigration history.

17. Blanche

Plaster of Paris

Plaster of Paris

Place Blanche after which the metro is named, was named after the gypsum mines in the Montmartre area. Deposits of the mineral were left there with the flow of an ancient river wider than the Seine through the area.

Sacré-Coeur took a while to build because of instability problems caused by the old mines, and these underground tunnels were the site of the entombment of communards in 1871 when the authorities blasted the entrances shut. The white colour of the basilica was controversial because of the association of this incident with the white gypsum.

By the way, plaster of Paris is so-called because much of the time it was made from gypsum quarried in Paris.

18. Carrefour Pleyel

Pleyel piano

Pleyel piano

Ignaz Pleyel was an Austrian composer who founded the Pleyel de Cie piano factory in the area where a crossroads were named after it. They brought the first upright pianos to France and boasted musician customers such as Chopin who said the Pleyer piano was the “non plus ultra” (nothing above that). Liszt described the sound of Chopin’s Pleyel as being “the marriage of crystal and water” (thanks Forte Piano).

The Pleyer factory is still in existence and moved back to Paris’ 8th arrondissement after relocating for a while to the South of France.

19. Rue de la Pompe

Water Pump

Water Pump

Rue de la Pompe is unsurprisingly named after the Rue de la Pompe. Pompe means “pump” in French and the pump referred to in the street name is the one that was installed in 1730 to distribute water for use by residents of  the Chateau de la Muette.

The old chateau was replaced by two newer versions, the most recent being built in 1921-22 and situated on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne.

Interestingly, Brigitte Bardot spent a good part of her childhood in No 1 Rue de la Pompe.

20. Les Lilas – Serge Gainsbourg

Serge Gainsbourg

Serge Gainsbourg

No, this one doesn’t exist yet, but if Lilas mayor Daniel Guiraud gets his way, it will. Extra stations are being built in the Lilas suburban district, and as well as the Gainsbourg name, Guiraud would like a bronze statue of the controversial singer to be erected outside the new station.

The connection with Lilas is a song recorded by cabbage-head man (one of his nicknames), called the “Poinçonneur des Lilas” (ticket-puncher) who is so depressed by his job on the metro that he wants to kill himself. So it won’t exactly be a celebration of the metro itself.

 21. Rue des boulets

Rue Des Boulets

Rue Des Boulets

The picture above is how Janol Apin sees Rue Des Boulets metro station in his imagination (he’s produced a fantastic series of photos on 17 metro scenarios).

However, here’s the real story according to a 1825 book “The History of Paris”

“In the sixteenth century there was near this spot a field for practising archery and the art of slinging. The boulets (bullets) in this exercise gave its name to the street”.

22. rue de rome

Toga costume

Toga costume (buzzle.com)

Rue de Rome is one of several Parisian streets named after European capital cities. Others include Madrid, Naples, Constantinople, Milan, London, St Petersburg and Amsterdam.

Interestingly, around half of the shops on the Rue de Rome are violin shops.

23. alexandre dumas

The three musketeers

The three musketeers (thechestnut.com)

Alexandre Dumas is of course the author of the adventure novels The Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Muskateers (both originally published as serials). Interestingly, Dumas’ assistant August Maquet is said to have outlined the plot for The Count of Monte Cristo and contributed extensively to the Three Muskateers and its sequels.

English playwright Watts Phillips said of the author:

“[he was] the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill — once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself.”

He was an aristocrat and grand-son of a duke and a black slave woman so had to put up with a degree of racism: his novel Georges deals with the subject of colonialism and race.

He’s also said to have had around 40 affairs in his lifetime, yet somehow only four illegitimate children.

 24. Champs de Mars

The Champs de Mars is the 60 acre park in which the Eiffel Tower sits (that’s the tall building that looks a bit like the Blackpool Tower:

Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower (ragpickinghistory.co.uk)

The Champs de Mars is named after the Campus Martius, the ancient Roman district of the city of Rome dedicated to Mars (God of War). The name fits with the purpose it was put to in the 18th century, as the training grounds for the military personnel of the Ecole Militaire that sits at the end of it.

It witnessed the very first Bastille Day celebrations held a year after the fall of Bastille prison (it was then known as Federation Day) in 1790 and there was a massacre on it the year after that.

By the way, don’t go looking for this station. It isn’t in service any more – it’s a veritable ghost station.

25. Concorde

Concorde

Concorde

Named after the world-famous plane.

Well, not really, but the word, meaning harmony or agreement between groups relates to both the plane and to the Place de la Concorde.

In the case of the supersonic jet it acknowledged the working together of the countries involved in the production of it; and the renaming of the Place de la Révolution to Place de la Concorde was a gesture of reconciliation after the revolution.

Summary

I’m hoping you found those facts as fascinating as I did. Sign up for my newsletter if you fancy reading more Quirky Travel tidbits as they hit the press.

Re-opening of the art deco Louxor Cinema, Paris

Louxor exterior in 1930

Louxor exterior in 1930 (ivanartdeco.wordpress.com)

As of 18th April 2013, the Louxor Cinema, not too far from the Gare du Nord in Paris, reopened after having been closed as a cinema since 1983. The Egyptian decor is looking as sumptuous as expected and there’s a great choice of smaller, independent films to choose from.

This video on the reopening is in French, but even if you’re not so clued up on French, there’s some great architectural detail to see:


Le Louxor, nouveau cinéma à Barbès by mairiedeparis

Egypt was all the rage when the Louxor – Palais de Cinema, flagship of the Pathe cinema chain was opened in October 1921 in the Barbès district of Paris. The Egyptianised art deco design of it, the creation of architect Henry Zipcy, was inspired by the film Cleopatra, a 1917 blockbuster starring the lucious Theda Bara. Unfortunately this film is, for the moment at least, lost – the last known remaining copies of it destroyed by fire.

Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917

Theda Bara as Cleopatra

The interior of the cinema included Egyptian-style seating, a blue ceiling to depict the sky, Egyptian-inspired murals, hieroglyphs and papyrus columns. There was an orchestra pit and pipe organ. The facade, thankfully protected, can still be seen on this building which sits opposite the bargain clothes chain Tati at the Barbès-Rochechouart metro stop in a rough and ready part of town. Blue, gold and black columns and scarabs decorate the outside but since the 1980s much of it was covered in posters advertising the latest music gigs.

Interior of the Louxor 1954, Paris

Interior in 1954 – cinematreasures.org

The decline of the Louxor began in the mid-1950s when cinema audience numbers were in decline worldwide, largely due to the onslaught of television. By the 1970s, mainly Indian and Arab films were being shown to a growing immigrant population. The building ceased to function as a cinema when it was sold to the Tati chain in 1983. Thankfully an attempt by this company to pull it down and erect a clothing store failed, and it was briefly a nightclub in the late 1980s. In 1990 the Louxor closed and remained closed until purchased by the City of Paris in 2003.

Louxor salle Youssef Chahine

How the salle Youssef Chahine will look in 2013 – paris.fr

The future is looking great for the art deco cinema and its restoration is part of the ongoing work to regenerate this area of Paris. Work has started on the renovation, and there are plans to re-open it in 2013

The Louxor re-opens!

Update: as you read at the top of this article, the grand Egyptian picturehouse re-opened on 18th April 2013. There are now three screens and much of the original Egyptian decoration has been restored. There’s also a cafe, which, on my first visit, appears to need more experienced staff and a bit of organisation.

The interior is a quality piece of work and beautifully done. Here’s an image from the Mairie de Paris:

Detail from Salle 1 (Mairie de Paris)

Louxor cinema Paris. Detail from main screening room.

 

The other screening rooms don’t have the Egyptian detailing but they’ve been decorated very tastefully and quality materials have been used.

Hip hip hooray to a grand old picturehouse!

Links

Friends of Louxor cinema

Paris-Louxor

10th arrondissement council page on the Louxor

Nos Cinemas de Quartier exhibition at the 18th arrondissement town hall

Quirky Travel Cinema posts

The Grand Rex is another cinematic gem in Paris – here’s QT’s Le Grand Rex Cinema post.

And you can take a tour behind the scenes. Here’s the story of my Etoiles de Grand Rex backstage trip

Zouave: Watching and waiting for the next flood of Paris

Pics 2012 179

If you’ve ever taken a boat trip on the Seine in Paris, the guy above at the Pont de l’Alma will have been pointed out to you. He’s a Zouave soldier and he’s an indicator of how high the magnificent Seine has risen.

You’ll see he doesn’t appear to be quite in the style of the bridge he’s now a part of – the original bridge was opened in 1856 but the one he now stands at was a replacement, constructed in the 1970s.

His exotic outfit is the typical uniform of the Zouave battalion, part of the French army between 1831 and 1962 and often fighting in North Africa.  Baggy red trousers (white in summer), a short embroidered jacket, fez and cloak differentiated these soldiers from the others and they were known as fierce warriors.

When the water reaches his feet, the banks alongside the Seine are closed to the public. The river is unnavigable when it hits his thighs. And this is a photo of how high the water reached during the 1910 flood …

Zouave during the 1910 flood, Seine, Paris

Zouave during the 1910 flood (http://www.legrandjournal.com.mx)

Here’s a picture of two real Zouaves taken at some time between 1855 and 1865 by Roger Fenton  during the Crimean War:

Zouaves in the Crimean War (http://www.old-picture.com)

Zouaves in the Crimean War (http://www.old-picture.com)

One hundred years after the great flood that saw the boat become the vehicle of choice on Paris streets …

Paris flood 1910

Paris flood 1910 (http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com)

… flood again threatened Paris:

2010.12.26.07 PARIS - Pont de l'Alma, le zouave a les pieds dans l'eau

In late December the water reached all the way up to his ankles. Not quite as dramatic, but still a reminder that this is likely to happen again. And the proud Zouave watches and waits.

A Piece of History in Paris: Pellissier Jonas & Rivet

Entrance to Pellissier Jonas & Rivet, Paris

Entrance to Pellissier Jonas & Rivet, Paris

I came across the arch above on one of my Parisian wanders. It’s the entrance to a factory that no longer exists at 49 Rue de Bagnolet, near Père Lachaise. It attracted my attention because it is a rather lovely portico and because of the fact that I have no idea what the factory behind it would have looked like. I thought I’d do a bit of hunting to find out what this piece of history in Paris meant.

The first reference I could find for the company Pellissier Jonas & Rivet was on a Patents website for a fur carroting process, which, as you can see in the pdf in the previous link refers to a way of treating animal fibres so that felt-like properties are imparted to them.

Mad Hatter

Mad Hatter

Fur carroting before this time used mercury, which of course caused major problems for the workers using it. As I’m sure you know, the phrase “mad as a hatter” comes from the behavioural changes caused by mercury poisoning. Jonas & Rivet’s new process made use of a selection of acids  instead (presumably better for the workers (?)) .  The company is described as being an American hat making company.

Pellissier refers to the occupation of fur garment maker, so we can deduce from that they were either manufacturers of the felt for the hats or the hats themselves. They had branches in the US and France, as indicated in the picture at the top of the page.

Felt hat from early twentieth century

Felt hat from early twentieth century

In a Tariff Hearings document presented to the US Congress House Committee in 1908 the company appears in the name of Pellissier, Jeunes Rivet, Brooklyn, NY, so we can guess that they had a factory or head office in that neighbourhood and can only wonder why Jonas isn’t there. Or perhaps Jeunes is just a misprint or mishearing of Jonas.

Louis August Jonas was the Jonas of the firm and he made sufficient money that his son, George E Jonas, founded the Louis August Jonas Foundation in America. It provides opportunities for young people. He also founded Camp Rising Sun in Red Hook, New York. George (aka Freddie) was also a partner in the felt manufacturing firm for a time.

In 1953 a report appears in the Kingston Daily Freeman newspaper that the company’s plant in Walden, NY is up for sale, so they obviously had at least one other plant in the States, and I wonder if it was around then that the company wound up? And I wonder when the Paris workshop closed? And who was Rivet? I haven’t been able to find anything on him yet.

So what’s the point of this post? Simply that curiosity and noticing things are what keeps travelling and wandering the fascinating occupations that they are. The fact that the portico is still there means that someone somewhere decided it was important or attractive enough to keep it, even as the area around it developed. There are still traces of the past to be uncovered and isn’t it interesting to try to do that?

 

All about the Palais Garnier (L’Opéra de Paris to you and me)

Opera Palais Garnier

QT likes a bit of culture

This article was actually written for another site but they decided not to use it after all the in-depth research I’d done. They’d gone over to publishing interviews only. So dammit, I’ll just put it up on QT. There are some handy hints on booking tickets for the Opéra, because I’ve heard some people have found it a bit of a confusing thing to do? And there’s also a bit of history …

A Bit of History about the Opéra

Completed in 1874 the Paris Opéra, in a city of sumptuous architecture, could be said to be the most sumptuous of all, but who am I to make a statement like that?

It didn’t start well. The foundations of the then Académie Nationale de Musique were unwittingly laid in the middle of a Parisian swamp in 1862 (a stone tank underneath now holds much of the water and stops any more from seeping into the foundations. Clever Andrew Lloyd Webber fans may already know that the tank and associated rumours about it were probably the inspiration for the underground river in the original story of the Phantom of the Opera. These days fire fighters use it to practise swimming in the dark!)

It rises up 17 storeys, seven of which are underground. These seven hold rehearsal rooms, ball rooms, set rooms, miles of corridors that a potential Phantom could have had the run of – but the public don’t get to see it.

The Palais Garnier

The official name for this beauteous beaux-arts building, situated in its own Place at the end of its own avenue in the 9th arrondissement, is the Palais Garnier.

Fascinating fact: the Avenue de l’Opéra leading up to it was the only treeless boulevard in Paris, as a result of an agreement between its architect Charles Garnier and Baron Haussmann to allow an unimpeded view of the Palais.

The building is still commonly known as the Opéra as it was the official home for the Paris Opéra and Paris Opéra Ballet companies until their move to the newly built Opéra Bastille in 1989.

Some stunning features include a domed ceiling painted by Chagall and a seven ton chandelier in the auditorium, whose falling counterweight inspired Gaston Leroux to feature a falling chandelier in his novel Phantom of the Opera. It had actually fallen on a poor construction worker and killed him back in 1896.

Buying tickets for the Opéra

Booking tickets for the Opéra (this advices covers the Opéra Bastille as well) is best done online. Sign up for email alerts and you’ll receive an email in advance of the tickets going on sale. You’ll find that the online tickets appear up to a couple of months before you can buy them at the box office or by phone.

If tickets aren’t available in your price bracket on any given day, try again – more tickets do become available and your patience may well be rewarded.

There’s a wide range of prices. For an idea of these have a look at their price page And another source of tickets is FNAC Tickets Don’t be like me and not realise you’ve requested to pick them up from a FNAC shop before turning up at the event. (I missed a L’Etranger play because of that.)

Beware that some of the cheaper seats in the upper levels don’t actually have views (and are sold as such). These were boxes made to be seen in, with the ability to view the stage being an entirely secondary consideration! And beware that they tend to be uncomfortable with a lack of leg-room in a bench arrangement, rather than an individual seat.

Ticket resale

Try the Bourse d’Echange which gives customers a chance to sell off unwanted tickets. It’s easy to use as it’s run by an outside ticket software company, ZePass. When your ticket is bought you’ll have the opportunity to arrange to meet the seller face to face. Sellers are given a star rating by buyers, which should weed out those who don’t come up with the goods, although the Opéra isn’t liable if the whole thing goes wrong – they’re just an intermediary.

If there are no tickets available, you can sign up for alerts for whenever one comes up. Buying tickets on the night may be problematic – queues start forming an hour or more before the performance begins, and left-over tickets tend to be expensive ones.

Lemaire Opera Glasses 02.12.09

Take a tour of L’Opéra

If you’d like to delve a bit more deeply into the backstage workings of the Palais Garnier, take a tour of the public areas of the building. These tickets are available online, though it’s probably simplest to turn up on the day.

There is quite a comprehensive page on booking on this Palais Garnier visits page

As well as a chance to mount the extremely gorgeous staircase, there’s a permanent exhibition of old opera sets as well as temporary exhibitions to view on your way round. For more insight into the history of the place, the guided tours (in French or English) are apparently very useful. You may be able to view the auditorium although it could be closed to the public for “artistic or technical reasons.”

Museum with a Difference: Égouts de Paris (Sewer Museum)

Paris sewer ball used for cleaning

Paris sewer ball used for cleaning (Wikipedia)

If you’ve run out of things to do in Paris and would like to try something a bit different, you could do worse than paying a visit to a museum celebrating the workings of the Paris sewer system. Sewer systems are of course one of the pieces of the infrastructure jigsaw that help keep a city running. And cities would all be a darn sight less attractive without an effective one. So we should celebrate sewer systems in all our cities. Let’s hear it for sewers!

The Égouts (sewers) de Paris can be accessed by entering via a small ticket kiosk not far and across the road from the Eiffel Tower (at the Quai d’Orsay). Basically walk out of Paris along the Seine and you’ll come across it.

When I was there I was given a ticket by a man who I’ve jumped to the conclusion is an ex-sewer worker. Maybe I’m wrong, but it makes sense that when you’ve had enough of the pong and the hard work below and you still want to earn a living, you move above ground to the more pleasant environs of the river bank and the traffic.

The smell. That’s going to put a lot of people off. It does tickle you in the nose as you pass through the entrance although it becomes less offensive after a while. I didn’t get to the point where I’d completely forgotten about it, however.

History of the Égouts de Paris

The museum tells the story of Paris’ sewer system which progressed from drains laid down the middle of paved streets in 1200 in the time of Philippe Auguste, to 2100km worth of sewers today, with a system that collects 1.2 million cubic metres of wastewater every day and includes one of the biggest sewage plants in Europe at Achères.

You’ll have the choice of touring the museum as part of a guided tour (foreign language tours only run in summer) or wandering around yourself – you’re given a decent Tour Plan and it’s quite easy to find your way around.

Mannequin in the Paris sewer museum

Mannequin in the Paris sewer museum

There’s a gallery that runs through the chronological progress of the sewers, you’ll see a ‘flushing boat’ that helps clean the sewer in a particular smelly part (don’t look too closely into the water) and you’ll see some other equipment used in the cleaning and maintenance of the égouts including a giant spherical stone ball. You’ll even see some stuffed rats in a touching tableau.

Among the fascinating things you’ll learn are that from 1920-1975 visitors to the sewers travelled downstream in punts along the main sewer for a distance every Thursday and on the last Saturday of the month; for a time Clichy ended up with the water pollution passed on from Paris and that bubbles of methane up to a metre in diameter could be seen in the river there; and that these days eels, perch and carp can all be found in the cleaned-up Seine.

Why visit a sewer?

I would recommend the Sewer Museum for anyone interested in the development of cities and of Paris in particular – the exhibits here run from the Roman period of Lutetia all the way up to the computers used to manage water flow these days. Beware it’s closed on a Thursday and Friday, and bring a nose peg though!

 

Website: http://www.paris.fr/loisirs/musees-expos/musee-des-egouts/p9691

Review of the Musée Grévin Wax Museum, Paris

Musée Grévin entrance in Passage Jouffroy

Musée Grévin entrance in Passaage Jouffroy (Wikipedia)

I’ve passed by the Musée Grévin wax museum so often I’ve lost count, yet have always been in two minds about going in. It has a beautifully over the top fancy exterior and it runs a fair bit of the length of the marvellous Passage Jouffroy (in which the Hotel Chopin sits – one of the best value,  most characterful hotels in Paris.)

One of the things that put me off, though, is that it’s a waxwork museum. I’ve never actually been to one. I’ve avoided Madame Tussaud’s like the plague, having absolutely no intention of ever darkening its doors. Its permanent queues snaking round the building are enough to put anyone off and I can honestly live my life without ever having seen a carved image of Kylie Minogue.

Another drawback is the price. It’s currently 22 euros (and no cheaper online) which is much more expensive than most other attractions in Paris: the Pompidou ticket price is 13 euros and the Musée du Quai Branly charges just 10. 22′s a lot, especially if you’re going in as a family (mind you, it’s cheaper than getting a view from the top of the Shard – £24.95). Even if it does feature Liza Minnelli in Cabaret:

Musée Grevin

However, the building that the museum’s housed in looked fascinating. The Grévin has been on the same spot since 1882 (newer than Tussaud’s) and I’d heard that there’s a nice gory historical section that appeals to the quirky traveller in me. If I hadn’t gone in, it would have annoyed me ever after.

The first attraction is in the slow-moving queue (what other type of queue is there in Paris?) – a mirror that makes you look fat. The young slim woman in front thought it was hilarious. Being slightly chubbier myself, it did nothing for me. There a couple more of these past the entrance. They do add to the slightly eery, carnival vibe that I felt all the way through the museum. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have a Stephen King horror clown jump out at me at any moment.

Musée Grévin staircase

Musée Grévin staircase from http://www.worldtoptop.com

I pass up a beautifully chandeliered marble staircase which leads up to the “Mirage Palace” mirrored room in which a light show was just starting. I’m ushered into a pitch black room and told to insert myself into a circle – of what, I thought. Ghosts? Monsters of the deep? Just people, but it did take the eyes a minute to adjust.

The show is quite ingenious and computer-controlled. Indian-inspired music plays while the lights make this chandelier and mirror-filled room into an enormous lake-filled temple or a jungle or an Indian palace. An impressive spectacle and it went some way for me in making up for the extortionate entrance price.

The waxworks themselves are a strange mix of those who would pass for life-like in a dimly lit room and those that look like giant wax dolls with no resemblance to anything living, even when you’re told who they’re supposed to be. Harrison Ford, for example, would be unrecognisable if not for his Indy hat and whip.

le musée Grévin à Paris

Mika, on the other hand, isn’t bad if a bit shiny:

Musée Grevin

Elton John’s pretty poor, if a bit cheerful:

Elton John, Musée Grévin, Paris

There were of course French personalities who I didn’t know. The pair of scary ladies below are a comedy duo called the Vamps. You apparently need to have spent a fair bit of time in France to really get what their humour’s about (as well as a good grasp of French).

Musée Grevin - The Vamps (French comedy duo)

There’s a theatre where magic shows are held although it wasn’t happening when I was there:

Theatre in the Musee Grevin,

Theatre in the Musée Grévin http://blog.nojo.fr

And a very authentic-looking mock-up of a cafe in which the likes of Ernest Hemmingway and Orson Welles are having a chat and a drink.

Musée Grevin

The most interesting part of the museum for me was the historical section in which this rather excellent scuplture of a skeleton on horseback emerging from a well symbolises the fear of death in the Dark Ages. There’s also a scene depicted where one Charlotte Corday murders one of the Jacobin leaders of the French Revolution Jean-Paul Marat. It features the actual knife and bath used in the assassination …

Musée Grevin

Would I recommend the Musée Grévin? Sort of. It passes an hour on a rainy Paris morning and it’s in a beautiful building. If you’re a waxwork fan, certainly, however I’m sure a lot of these figures also appear in the Madame Tussauds and the like – I can’t imagine it has the world’s only George Clooney. And of course, there’s the price.

I have to leave the decision up to you, but when I left and sat in a cafe writing about it afterwards, I didn’t feel like I’d been completely ripped off.

Have you been? What did you think? Would you recommend it? I’d love to know – add your comments below.

Musée Grévin Address etc

Musée Grévin
10 Boulevard Montmartre
75009

Métro Grands Boulevards

Website http://www.grevin.com/