Saturday, 4 July 2015

French Factoids, Touring Paris and Centre Pompidou

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most visited landmarks
This morning we had a city tour given by a local guide and he gave us a lot of interesting factoids. Here's a random selection:

The population of Paris is 2.2 million.

Les Invalides where Napoleon's body is laid to rest
Notre Dame is 852 years old.

There has been no skyscrapers since 1977 after the one at Montparnasse was built in 1973 at 59 floors.

The French pay 75 percent in taxes in gasoline.

There are five weeks of paid vacation each year.

A pack of cigarettes costs 10 euros.

Napoleon crowned himself emperor
Every year France receives 83 million visitors, 15 million of which go to Euro Disney.

To rent an 800 square-foot flat it costs around 2,300 euros a month, but the average wage is 1,600 euros.

We made a quick stop at The Invalides, Napoleon's final resting place. Twelve kilograms of gold leaf was used to reguild the dome on top of the Invalides and the place was originally a home for soldiers.

Napoleon's body is placed in seven coffins, and his actual height was 5 feet 6 inches, so he wasn't that short. He was originally from Corsica, half French, half Italian. He grew up speaking Italian and didn't learn French until he was older.

He worked hard, some 15 hours a day and graduated from the Military College that was passed by. There are still some bullet holes from World War II on the fa├žade of the college that can easily be seen.

The interesting "inside outside" design of Centre Pompidou
Another point of interest we saw was the Eiffel Tower. It was built in 1889 by Gustav Eiffel for the World's Exposition and was meant to be a temporary building to be taken down in 20 years. Many protested it, but at the last minute the structure was saved, mostly because it had military uses in sending wireless messages from the top.

It took 26 months to build the tower and it has four elevators, one in each leg. They now have double-decker elevators, each carrying 50 people at a time. The second floor of the tower is Jules Verne Restaurant, which was taken over by Alain Ducasse about a year ago. No food is actually "cooked" on the tower – it is brought up there – not even candles can be placed on a birthday cake.

Le Corbusier looked at things in terms of geometry
Eiffel was a well known civil engineer at the time and also assisted in the infrastructure of the State of Liberty that was a gift from the French to the Americans.

There's a giant gold "eternal flame" that was a gift from the Herald Tribune in 1987, but it happens to be by the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed in the tragic car accident with Dodi el Fayed. As a result the "eternal flame" has become a shrine where people still pay their respects to the late princess.

Two of Le Corbusier's chair designs that are still around today
Another must-see sight is the Arc de Triomphe, built by Napoleon to celebrate his victories. Thirty-three generals and marshals are remembered here, including Victor Hugo's father.

The arch is where the tomb of the unknown soldier is located, and the eternal flame there has been going non-stop for 94 years – even during World War II. Every night at 6.30pm there is a ceremony to remember the war dead.

This is also the place where the Tour de France ends.

Le Corbusier's concept of man and his various measurements
Our tour ended at Place de la Concorde, where we saw the obelisk that was originally from Luxor. It took five years and a specially made boat to carry it from Egypt to France. The obelisk is now 3,300 years old.

After lunch we went to Centre Pompidou near Chatelet Les Halles metro station. It's a curious building – the various pipes are on the outside, kind of turning the building inside out, as a way to save more space inside.

This photo of him ended the exhibition!
Designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the building is not only a exhibition space but also a community one too. The pipes are colour coded – blue for air conditioning, green for water circulation, red for transporting people in elevators and escalators, and yellow for electricity.

For 3 euros we were able to go to the top of the centre and have a good overview of Paris. We could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance as well as Sacre Coeur.

Inside we took a quick look at one of the current exhibitions, Le Corbusier: Mesures de L'Homme or Measures of Man.  

It was similar to the show we saw in New York over a year ago, celebrating the architect's innovative designs that focus on minimalism and functionality. Here it was more about the human body and how it fits in relation to architecture and furniture.

The stained glass dome at Galeries Lafayette
In 1943 he began thinking about the Modulor, a system of measurement based on the size of the average man, 183cm or 226cm when his arm was raised. However it wasn't just about numbers, Le Corbusier would make line drawings of human figures that were stamped onto drafts or painted or carved on walls of buildings.

The exhibition also showcases his paintings, sculptures, furniture designs and of course architectural drawings, including one of Notre Dame du Haut Chapel in Ronchamp, and of course Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab state, commissioned by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Afterwards we made our way to Galeries Lafayette where we saw lots of mainland Chinese tourists shopping up a storm or taking a break by sitting on the floor with their bags of purchases. We focused more on appreciating the stained glass domed ceiling than the luxury merchandise on the sale.

Printemps celebrating 150 years with flowers
Across the street Printemps is celebrating its 150th anniversary and trying to drum up business with collaborations with various brands, such as a special Printemps pink macaron from Laduree…

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