Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Marais District

05/08, Tuesday, A Holiday in memory of the End of WWII in France
This is a day off for many people in France. The streets are busy with kids out of school and adults enjoying a day of relaxing.

Because of this holiday, many hotels are booked for several days, including where we are staying. We don't have reservations for Wednesday night, so we have decided to move on a day early. Mom thought we might stop for a day in Strasbourg which is on the train route toward Colmar. So, we make a trial run to the Gare de l'Est, our departure station, where we can make ticket changes.

The station is in the 7th arrondissement, which is a short Metro ride to the Bastille and the Marais area. (Paris, within the outer belt, called the Peripherique, is divided into 20 areas called arrondissements.)

Again, we followed a Rick Steves walking tour. Many places are closed for the holiday such as the city museum and Victor Hugo's home, We started at the Bastille which today is a single tall column topped by a statue of Liberty (not the same as our Statue of Liberty) but a very large monument.

In 1782, the Bastille was a fortress where gun powder was stored. We were taught that it was the place where the French Revolution started. But, we were told on our bike tour that the Bastille was stormed by revolutionaries only after they first attacked the Invalides (a military hospital) where they took the artillery. Then they went to the Bastille for the gun powder and firing began.

We had an interesting stroll through the streets and parks in the area named the Marais which means "swamp" We walked in the Jewish Quarter and had great falafel pita sandwiches from a local deli with a take out window. We just sat there to do some serious people watching.

Didn't think we would find the Halocaust Memorial open on the holiday, but it was. What a tragic history unfolded. Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis in WW II; 76,000 in France after it was occupied by the Nazis. It certainly showed the consequences of indifference.

A long wall had names etched in it of the brave people that helped the Jews and would not tolerate such brutality and injustice. They were bestowed the title of righteous above all. The list is current as of 2010.

The Memorial includes a museum as well. It traces the treatment of Jews in France from the 12th century on, with most emphasis on 1939-1945, mentioning the Vel d'Hiv (the velodrome where many were gathered before being sent to the camps).

Then on to a really fun night bike tour that started with biking to Notre Dame and ending with a delightful cruise on the Seine and a final stop at the Eiffel Tower. Quite a night and the weather was perfect.

We all stopped for ice cream on the Isle de St. Louis (a small island just behind the Isle de Cite...where Notre Dame is) and we found (pretty sure) the little hotel we stayed in 30 odd years ago. Need to do that again!

Before arriving for the boat cruise we rode by the lit pyramids of the Louve. Very few people there and we just cycled around in wide circles. Great fun. We had a cute 19 year old French guide and he taught us how to toast French-style after pouring wine for everyone in our group. He was very knowledgable, fun and certainly seemed older than his years. A great end to our visit to Paris.

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