Posts Tagged ‘paris’

A Day in Champagne Country

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

John Sweets, Smithsonian Journeys' Study LeaderProfessor John Sweets is Professor Emeritus of History, specializing in the Vichy France era, the French Resistance, and occupied France. He has taught 19th and 20th century European history at the University of Kansas, University College, Dublin (Ireland), The School of International Studies (Fort Bragg, NC), and at the Université de Franche-Comté, Besançon (France). This spring, he led a Smithsonian Journeys group on a tour of France through the ages. See his post below: The perfect day in Paris begins with a glass of champagne and ends with a sunset at the Eiffel Tower.

Our morning begins with an early breakfast before boarding the bus for a trip to the north and east of Paris. A beautiful orange sunrise greets us through the front and right side window of the tour bus as we leave the Circular Boulevard around central Paris and follow the autoroute for a couple of hours. Many of the travelers take advantage of the quiet hum of the motor to catch up on their sleep. Others remark on how quickly we have left the Parisian urban environment and are driving through a rich, green countryside. As we approach Epernay and champagne country, we begin to see the chalky hillsides covered with the three varieties of grapes, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, used to produce the local champagne, which our guide Dominique reminds us is the only wine legally entitled to bear the name Champagne.

At the house of Moet & Chandon we are met by a lovely woman, stylishly attired in a Nina Ricci outfit, who takes us through all of the steps leading to the production of this bubbly gold. We are particularly impressed with how almost every stage of the process is still done by hand, especially for the vintage years which are treated with special care. Our guide tells us that the Imperial Champagne, a tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a good friend of the founder of the house, is the best champagne in the world. After she serves us a full glass of this elixir, no one is inclined to doubt her word, although we do ask each other: “Are we really drinking this fine champagne at 10:30 in the morning?”

Moet & Chandon

Geometry at Moet & Chandon. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gin Fizz.)

From Epernay we make our way to Reims for a quick lunch and then a visit to the extraordinary cathedral in the center of the town. It is hard to choose which is the most striking, the exterior façade with incredible sculpture at the entry doors and all the way up the front of the cathedral, or the wonderful stained glass windows, seen in all their glory from the interior of the church, and including very old traditional windows, a beautiful Rose Window, and gorgeous modern stained glass by Marc Chagall, who attempted in his panels to recreate the blue color of Chartres Cathedral. We are also reminded by statues of Joan of Arc, both outside and inside the Cathedral, that Reims Cathedral is the place to which most of the French kings were brought for their coronation ceremonies. In July 1429, Joan of Arc led the initially reluctant Dauphin to Reims to be crowned as King Charles VII and stood in her armor at his side (not in a dress as she is now represented by the statue inside the Cathedral).

After a stop and guided tour at the Mumm champagne house in Reims, capped off by a second full glass of champagne, we board our bus for the return trip to Paris and promptly fall asleep under the warm afternoon sun. After leaving the autoroute we merge into the flood of late afternoon traffic in Paris. After a quick stop at our hotel, we proceed to the Eiffel Tower to finish our day with a spectacular view over Paris at sunset. We arrive to find that due to technical problems, only one of the tower’s four elevators is in operation. To our astonishment, our Tour Guide, Francoise, is able to charm one of the attendants at the entry into letting us move up close to the front of the line. We have only a relatively short wait before ascending the tower and ending our day perched above the city trying to locate, in the glow of an unforgettable sunset, various Parisian sights we had visited earlier in the week.

View from the Eiffel Tower.

Sunset seen from the Eiffel Tower. (Image courtesy of Flickr user Oh Paris.)

Click here to read more about Journeys’ upcoming “France Through the Ages” tour.

How Did Le Cordon Bleu Get Its Name?

Monday, May 24th, 2010
A demonstration at the Cordon Bleu

A demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu

Julia Child attended the world class Le Cordon Bleu cooking school while living in Paris. So how did it get its name? First, we should translate Le Cordon Bleu. For those of us who don’t know a bit of French, it means “The Blue Ribbon.” Then we should ask, “What was the significance of a blue ribbon?”

For anyone who has attended a county fair, it is the blue ribbon that everyone wants to earn. Maybe it was for the biggest pumpkin, or the best apple pie. Either way, if you earned the blue ribbon, you were the best of the best.

What’s surprising is that le cordon bleu dates back to the 16th century when King Henry III of France created the l’Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit (Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit). From 1578 to 1789, it was the most exclusive order in France and each of its members were awarded with the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a blue ribbon known as Le Cordon Bleu, which is depicted in this image of Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers - the first to receive the order.

Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers was the first to receive the order.

Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers was the first to receive the order.

All members had to be at least 35 years old and Roman Catholic, but there were a few exceptions based on royal connections. Children of the king were members from birth, but were not received into the order until they were 12, while Princes of the Blood could be admitted to the order from the age of 16, and foreign royalty could be admitted to the order from the age of 25. These 100 knights were then called Les Cordon Bleus.

So how did it relate to food?

After the ceremonies held for these highly respected guests, there were huge sumputuous feasts held in their honor that became legendary. It is believed the name of the knights then became synonymous with the food prepared for their events. Over time, it became a symbol of prestigious quality.

Have you ever received a blue ribbon for your cooking skills?

Visit the real Le Cordon Bleu on Bon Appétit! A Culinary Journey in Paris and have your own cooking and tasting experience of the highest class.

On This Day in 1889…

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

…the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated. The structure is the tallest building in Paris—it’s more than 1000 feet high, about the same height as an 81-story building. Here are five things you might not know about this French icon…

View of the Eiffel Tower at night. Photo: Gonzalo Guerrero, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest.

1)  It was originally built as the entrance arch for the 1889 World’s Fair, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.

2)  People hated it. Newspapers of the era were filled with scathing criticism. The public called it an eyesore. The Parisian arts community called it “odious,” even considering its shadow a “black mark” on the city.

3)  The Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest building from 1889 until 1930, when the Chrysler Building was completed in New York City.

4)  The Tower has hosted more than 200,000,000 visitors (more than the entire population of Brazil) since its opening in 1889.

5)  Gustave Eiffel also designed the Abu El-Ela Bridge in Cairo, Egypt, the General Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and served as the chief engineer on the Statue of Liberty project.

Whatever you think of the Eiffel Tower, there are tons of reasons to visit Paris. Click to learn more about our journeys through France.

What’s your favorite international landmark? Share below.