Notre Dame Gargoyles, Paris

Paris Notre Dame Cathedral gargoyles

Gargoyles of the Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

After the April 14th 2019 fire, it’s not even certain if these iconic gargoyles still even adorn the amazing Notre Dame Cathedral. Even if they do, it won’t be possible to visit them until the cathedral is rebuilt… which will take years, possibly as long as two decades despite the overwhelming donations pledged (if only these sort of donations were pledged for all important monuments damaged and destroyed! Like the ancient temples of Iraq and Syria destroyed thanks to ISIS…). Notre Dame Cathedral is a special place, and the devastating fire is one of Europe’s terrible tragedies of recent times (though luckily avoiding loss of life). Built in the Middle Ages in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is a stone building topped with a wooden roof made of strong oak from the 1200s (much of which was burned to ciders on April 14/15th). It is in this cathedral where Victor Hugo’s le bossu (or the hunchback) lived out his life in the famous book, and up until the fire, it was Paris‘s most visited monument (12-14 million each year!). Notre Dame is a symbol of Paris and France, but also one of architectural beauty, history and cultural heritage. Following the fire, this beautiful building is also a symbol of hope and resilience sitting in the centre of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Let’s hope they rebuild it quickly, keeping in the same style as its original architects designed it… (no Pompidous, please!)


Pro tip: You can’t visit Notre Dame following the fire, but there are many other beautiful medieval structures in Paris well worth your visit, and many other great cathedrals in throughout France. Looking for gargoyles? Try Dijon Cathedral. Medieval grandeur? Lyon’s St Jean Cathedral. Simple elegance? Blois’s Church of Saint-Nicolas in the Loire Valley. 


Other extraordinary places to visit in France:

 

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River Saône in Lyon, France

Lyon river Saone, France

River Saône in Lyon, France

Lyon is surely one of Europe’s most beautiful and yet under-rated cities. Overlooked in favour of its more popular big sister Paris, in many ways, Lyon is actually far cooler. Known as France‘s Gastronomic Capitol, it is the place to come to eat. The city is renowned for its restaurants – from Michelin-starred Paul Bocuse’s fine dining to delicious family-run bouchons de Lyon. Pair you Lyonnais dinner with local wine from the vineyards of the Côtes de Rhône or Beaujolais. Lyon is an ancient place. Once the capital of Roman Gaul, Lyon’s rivers – the mighty Rhône and the graceful Saône – have long made Lyon a maritime power. The city progressed eastwards. The Romans inhabited the hill of Fourvière (the remains of the amphitheater are still there); between the bottom of the hill and the Saône riverbanks is the medieval and Renaissance Vieux Lyon with its traboules and cobblestones; northwards is the hill of Croix Rousse, once home to Renaissance silk merchants; between the two rivers is the Presqu’île, home to elegant 18th and 19th century masterpieces. On the far side of the river, 20th century Lyon has exploded in massive concrete blocks, and at the southernmost point of the rivers’ meeting is the Confluences, where the ultra-modernity of the 21st century shocks visitors. But the best way to explore Lyon through the ages is by following its rivers. The Rhone is the more popular – its banks popular for jogging, picnics, and even clubbing (on the boats), while the Saône is quieter, calmer, somehow more French, more Lyonnais – follow the river north for a lovely introduction to this very amazing city before wandering its varied districts.


Pro tip: Looking for a good bar? Les Fleurs du Malt in the Vieux Lyon has incredible array of beers. Food? The bouchons of the old town are all great, but for true authenticity, head into the modern 7ème district to either the Bistrot des Fauvres or L’Autre Côté du Pont (nearby Italian restaurant San Marco is also delicious). Be sure to visit the traboules, tunnel/passages, in the Vieux Lyon – head to #52 Rue Saint John and go through the door.


Other Amazing but Under-rated Cities in Europe

 

Gargoyles on Dijon Cathedral, France

Gargoyles on Dijon Cathedral, France

Gargoyles on Dijon Cathedral, France

Though the most famous gargoyles are on Notre Dame de Paris (thanks, Victor Hugo and Disney), one finds gargoyles on most French cathedrals, and Dijon’s Notre Dame Church is no different. This unusual, square-faced cathedral, commenced in 1230, is a medieval masterpiece. In fact, it contains no less than 51 gargoyles (nearly all mere decorations). Though Notre Dame de Dijon dates back to the Middle Ages, the gargoyles were only carved in the 1880s (around Hugo’s time…). The original facade had many such gargoyles of monsters and men, but local legend states they were all (but one) removed by the friends of a usurer (money lender), who was killed by a falling stone gargoyle on his wedding day. Gargoyles have long held both the fascination and horror of their audiences. While the original purpose was simply to drain water away from a wall, they quickly evolved into displaying grotesque and fantastical designs. The term itself comes from an French word “gargouille,” meaning “throat” (think “gullet”). The idea of the gargoyle is said to have came from an ancient French legend from Rouen, in which St Romanus conquered a terrible winged dragon called La Gargouille who was both long-necked and fire-breathing. Upon slaying it, the city burned La Gargouille’s body but its fireproof head and neck would not burn, so they mounted it on the church walls to ward off the evil spirits (though you’d think that’d ward off good spirits too!). Thus, the idea and name were adapted for fanciful drains sprouting from France’s soaring cathedrals, and Dijon’s gargoyles don’t disappoint: all 51 are fascinatingly fantastic, bizarre, eye-catching and grotesque.


Pro tip: The church also contains a small statue of an owl, now the symbol of the city, and said to have magical powers. Find it on the left side of the cathedral and touch it with your left hand to make a wish come true! Also, follow the owl symbols on the ground to discover Dijon’s historical heritage sites. 


Other Fascinating Statues in Europe

Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval, France

Palais Ideal Facteur Cheval - Ideal Palace, Hautrives, France

Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval, France

Welcome to the Palais Ideal, or Ideal Place of the Postman Cheval. Built by a wildly-imaginative postman in the early 20th century in Hautrives, France, this structure is an extraordinary example of naïve art architecture, with definite influences of the Art Nouveau movement of fin de siecle Europe. True to it’s name, this supposedly naive art is made by someone, like Postman Cheval, who has no architectural training. In fact, the Postman simply picked up interesting-looking rocks on his 30-some mile daily postal delivery and brought them home. He went back to the same spot the next day, and found another, and another. Remembering a dream he had when built a palace, castle and cave, he started to construct a bizarre palace inspired by myth, history, nature, religion, and the world all around. In his own words, he said to himself: “since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture.” He kept going for the next thirty-three years until he had built his castle or palace or cave (even he himself admitted, “I cannot express it well.”) until he finally had his ideal palace.


Strange and Bizarre Architecture in Europe
  1. House of Chimeras, Kiev, Ukraine
  2. Casa Mila, Barcelona, Spain
  3. House of Friendship in Moscow, Russia
  4. Zubri Zuri Bridge, Bilbao, Spain
  5. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia, Spain

 

London, England

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Dragon Boundrey Mark, London, England

How would you like to have a pair of dragons guarding the limits of your town? Well, that’s exactly what’s going on in the City of London (the very central part of the capital). London decided to mark the boundary of the City of London with several 6-7 foot tall dragon statues. Originally modeled on dragons perched atop the London Coal Exchange, this mighty beast is one of the two original statues from the Coal Exchange, relocated to Victoria Embankment in the mid 20th century. Dragons, like  lions, have a long history of guarding things (places, families, riches, businesses, etc) from would-be invaders. As mystical beings (not to mention big and scary), dragons have the added bonus of absolute mysteriousness, to be designed according to the vision of the creator in whatever likeness suits him best. Covered in scales, of enormous stature, and able to walk, fly, and breathe fire, it’s not hard to imagine why someone would chose this beast as their guardian and alley. Whether real or not, keep your eyes open and you might see more dragons around you than you ever realised or suspected!


More on Travel in the UK
  1. Scottish Highlands
  2. Tower Bridge
  3. Winchester Cathedral
  4. Stonehaven, Scotland
  5. Bath, England

 

House with Chimaeras, Kiev, Ukraine

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House with Chimaeras, Kiev, Ukraine

Imagine walking through a city such as Kiev. It is months before war is thought of, and there is an element of peace still wafting through the air. Despite this–despite its magnificent cathedrals and fine buildings on its main street, there is still an air of desperation, a slight tugging at one’s side. Square, concrete buildings remind one of the war, which like many other cities in Eastern Europe–destroyed large chunks of the city and had to be rebuilt quickly and cheaply. Imagine grey skies overhead, as you hurry through the rain. Imagine you turn a corner and stumble upon the President of Ukraine’s office. Imagine turning around just as the rain relents–and coming face to face with this. This dramatic house, which for the past ten years has been used for diplomatic ceremonies, looks as if it popped up from a (rather dark) storybook. It is the House with Chimaeras. The name does not relate to the mythical animal, but rather the architectural style in which a building is adorned with animal sculptures. Look closely–and you will see nothing but animals! Whales, frogs, elephants, rhinos, deer, eagles, fish, serpents–you name it, it’s probably there. Italian architect Emilio Sala redesigned the house after original architect Vladislav Gorodetsky, who was an avid hunter, was forced to sell it. I suppose this is one way to pay homage to one’s hobbies–albeit an excessive one!  Despite–or perhaps a result of–its prestigious address, important guests and strange decor, the house remains one of the strangest, creepiest, most bizarre yet most important buildings in all of Kiev and beyond.

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Oscar Wilde Statue, Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland

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Oscar Wilde Statue, Merrian Square, Dublin

Dublin is famous for Guinness, crazy stag parties (in American English, bachelor/ette parties), and its pride for the Irish writers.  Joyce, Yeats, Heaney, Singe, Bowen and Wilde are just a select few writers that Dublin immortalizes. From quotes in the Guinness factory to plaques on the streets to statues in the parks, Dublin is teeming with an intense love for the writers who originated from this small but impressive country. Oscar Wilde is one of them—the man who wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray—and is remembered for his clever (and usually insulting) wit, as well as his alcoholism and homosexuality.  Wilde was a dandy, that rare class of men that dressed meticulously and extravagantly. He was famous at Magdalen College (pronounced maud-a-lin) before he even wrote anything of consequence, though he went on to publish plays with lines like,

“We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”

A true friend stabs you in the front.”

All art is quite useless.”

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

 “We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

So, go find his statue the next time you’re in Dublin, nicknamed the Quare [queer] in the Square, because don’t we all love Oscar?

Statue of Cumil, Bratislava, Slovakia

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Statue of Cumil, Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava occasionally manages to makes the Danube travel itinerary, as its comfortably in between Vienna and Budapest. However, it’s still rather undiscovered in a way that Vienna is not. Smaller than Prague, Budapest or Vienna, Bratislava still has plenty of gems.  Walking through the middle of Bratislava’s Old Town, one suddenly comes across this unusual statue peeping out of a manhole. Only dating back to 1995, “Cumil” (as called by the locals) remains a mystery as to why there is a man in a raincoat popping out of a manhole. Regardless of his intentions, he’s amusing for both locals and tourists alike–and always a fun photo-op for all ages!