The beautiful capital of France

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Me looking out across the river Seine

Everyone says that you should try and visit Paris at least once in your life. A city full of famous sights, history, culture and romance, Paris is a place that I’ve been lucky to visit more than once and a city that I have fond memories of.

My first trip to Paris was with the school. At the age of fifteen a coach full of my friends and I, accompanied by our teachers, made the trip across the channel and spent a few days in the city visiting some well known sights such as Notre Dame, The Centre Pompidou and The Eiffel Tower.

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View from the Eiffel Tower on our school visit
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Notre Dame Cathedral on our school visit
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Gargoyles on Notre Dame Cathedral on our school visit

It was my first trip abroad and it was exciting to be away from home with my friends. Paris was an interesting place, we got to see some amazing things and try out our French language skills in preparation for our GCSE exams. We scaled the heights of the Eiffel Tower, to take in the views, before walking back down (not for the faint hearted especially if you don’t like heights!). We explored Parisian cafés and shops, and visited The Louvre to view the famous Mona Lisa. The most interesting part of the trip however, was getting stuck in a lift, and being rescued by firefighters. It wasn’t something I enjoyed that much and I’ve been petrified of lifts and getting stuck in them ever since!

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The Seine

My next visit to Paris were day trips for various events, and I never got to see much of the city but still enjoyed being there, it’s a relaxing place to visit and work. It wasn’t until December 1999 when I returned again, this time for a longer stay that included Christmas and New Year. My home for the next three weeks was in the area of Pigalle, just round the corner from the Moulin Rouge and I grew to absolutely love this part of Paris.

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The Moulin Rouge at night

I would pop out in the mornings to buy bread, croissants and other supplies. I explored the streets that wound up to the Sacre Ceour and the artists quarter, and discovered some lovely shops and cafés. Jumping on the metro I went further afield to Lafayette and other neighbouring stores to see the beautiful Christmas window displays, marvelling at the huge tree in Galeries Lafayette, before going up to the roof to view the expansive skyline of Paris; a view I highly recommend.

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View across Paris towards the Eiffel tower
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Galeries Lafayette at Christmas
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View across Paris to Notre Dame Cathedral

Christmas Day was celebrated by eating ham, egg and chips in a local Parisian café, and New Year’s Eve was celebrated on the steps of the Sacre Ceour, looking down upon the lights of the city, as the millennium arrived in a flurry of amazing fireworks.

Other trips during my stay were to the Champs Elyse, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. My favourite trip out was on New Year’s day, catching the metro to Trocadero and walking over the River Seine towards the Eiffel Tower taking in the New Year date 2000, before walking along the river towards Notre Dame. It’s a lovely walk and you get to see so much of the city from the bank of the river.

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The Eiffel Tower, 01 January 2000
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The Sacre Ceour

I love Paris, there’s so much to see and experience, and I discovered that one of the best things you can do in the city is just to walk the streets, enjoy your surroundings and take everything in. There is always something interesting to see, or new to discover. Sadly I haven’t been for a while, but I do hope that I’ll get the chance to go back again very soon, it’s a city that still has so much to offer, even if you have been there many times before.

  • Have you been to Paris? If so which was your favourite part?

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Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com

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A haunting visit to Munich

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Bavaria, from the coach

Many years ago an old friend I worked with was studying German and decided to go to Germany to test her language skills. Rather than go on her own, she asked if I’d go with her. Having never been to Germany before I jumped at the chance. We packed rucksacks, booked our tickets and endured a twenty four hour coach journey from London to Munich. We eventually arrived after a ferry trip to France and a long drive through France, Belgium and Germany. We were tired and hungry and Munich was in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. In the dark we navigated the streets of Munich and made our way to the hostel where we booked in and got some sleep.

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Central Munich

Over the next week we spent our days exploring the city and its surroundings, we travelled the U Bahn and S Bahn, Munich’s equivalent of the underground, we ate and drank in the Hofbrauhaus a famous German drinking house, and explored the many sights including the beautiful Marienplatz, the Frauenkirche (Cathedral Church of our blessed lady), and the Olympic park where we climbed the tower to take in surrounding views.

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Olympic Park, Munich
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In the Hofbrauhaus with a small pint of german beer!
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Marienplatz, Munich

One day we took a train to the town of Dachau. My friend wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure it was something I really wanted to do, but rather than stay in Munich on my own I tagged along. In the town are the remains of Dachau concentration camp, one of the first camps created by the Nazi’s during the war. It’s a lonely, abandoned looking place with a hauntingly horrific past. With much trepidation, not knowing what to expect, we entered the camp remains and agreed to split up and meet up with each other a little later. The stories you hear of the silence and birds not singing in concentration camp sites is quite true and it’s also very unnerving. Alone, I walked abandoned pathways, past old barracks where camp prisoners would have lived and down the long tree lined Camp Road, that runs the length of the site. At the end, close to some chapels, was the crematorium area, which housed the gas chambers. They were rooms made to look like showers that were built with one purpose; cruel mass murder. Inside one of the shower rooms I stayed silent, trying to imagine what those poor people who had been forced to enter and never escaped had felt like, and I was at a loss. Some say the gas chambers at Dachau were never used, but an overheard tour guide told their tour group that they did indeed use them. The emotion I felt was very real. I was unable to understand how it had ever happened. I felt sadness for the thousands who had so cruelly lost their lives in Dachau, but also very angry, and was I glad that I was experiencing it alone.

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Dachau Camp, watchtower, fences and barracks in the background
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Camp Road, Dachau, The maintenance building at the far end

Wandering back down Camp Road to the former maintenance building that I had yet to visit, I stopped a moment to take in the place of death, that now stood silent as if nothing had ever happened. It was hard to believe that so much cruelty had taken place there. In front of the maintenance building was a lone metal statue – The International Monument – a tribute to those who had lost their lives in this place, and it seemed so little in comparison to the huge loss.

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The International Monument, Dachau
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The maintenance building and International Monument

The former maintenance building had been turned into a museum, and the walls inside were covered in black and white photos of some of those who had been prisoners. Some photos were plain, merely men women and children standing or sitting, a haunting sadness on their face as they endured their daily existence, others however were much more graphic. They showed inhumane experiments that had been conducted on unfortunate prisoners, executions and other things that don’t even bear thinking about. It was at this point that I’d had enough, and could no longer stay in the museum, but before I left I stopped to ask one of the staff a question:

“Why do you allow people to visit Dachau and keep these awful pictures on show?”

The response was: “We are not proud of what happened here, we want to remind people how terrible it was in the hope that it never happens again.”

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Entrance gate, Dachau

The rest of our trip to Munich continued with the usual sightseeing ad exploration after our visit to Dachau. We visited the Hofbrauhaus again, and it became a favourite place to eat and drink, we sunbathed in the English Garden and visited the Viktualienmarkt. But it was the visit to Dachau that stayed with us the most, and remained on my mind for a very long time, my friend and I never discussed it, but the stories we heard and the images we witnessed shocked us to the core and is something that will remain always. It’s certainly something I’ll never forget and in part I agree wholeheartedly with the museum staff. What happened during the war was truly terrible, we should never forget and it shouldn’t ever be allowed to happen again.

  • Have you ever been Munich? If so what was the favourite thing about it?

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Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com

 

Petra, the rose red city

Whilst visiting Eilat, in Israel (separate post about Eilat coming soon!) we border hopped into Jordan to visit the ancient city of Petra. It was a very early start and the coach trip up the Kings Highway took a few hours, but it was a trip that would prove to be worth it. Jordan is a great country, an expanse of dusty red/brown desert that rises and falls stretching on for endless miles. Mountains line the roadside, only punctuated by the occasional site of a Bedouin tent and its occupants.

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Close to the entrance of Petra National Park

Arriving in Wadi Musa, the small town where Petra is located, we joined our guide and followed him as we walked through the gates into Petra National Park. Nothing can prepare you for what you see as a visitor, neither can you truly describe to others how incredible Petra is. At first it doesn’t seem like much as you walk a dusty, open path with not much on either side, save for rocky inclines. After ten minutes or so however, you happen upon the Triclinium tomb and some Djinn blocks – ancient structures built by the original inhabitants the Nabataeans 2000 years previously – the first sign of what is to come. They are impressive, but you wonder if it was really worth the visit, but the trip doesn’t end there.

 

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Inside the gorge walking down to the main part of the city

The path continues steadily on, and suddenly it plunges down through a crack in a rock, between two large edifices of pink stone, once sliced open by an earthquake. Along this path you begin to catch remnants of ancient reliefs, carvings, cobbled flooring and an ancient water irrigation system, as you marvel at the incredible gorge that nature created.

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Catching site of “El Khasneh” at the end of the gorge
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“El Khasneh” (The Treasury)

Suddenly, without warning, the path ends and that’s when your visit to Petra really begins. At the end of this gorge stands the impressive El Khasneh (The Treasury), an ancient temple built by the Nabataeans. Turning to your right you suddenly discover that it’s just the first of many ancient sights, as your vision fills with the remnants of ancient tombs, temples and rock-cut houses.

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Some of the Royal Tombs
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Some of the Royal Tombs
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The Colonnaded street and other ruins
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The Roman Amphitheatre
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Rock-cut tombs/dwellings

Seeing and experiencing Petra was something I’ll never forget. Petra is a huge ancient city, albeit in a semi-ruinous state, that had belonged to the caravan people who had worked the old spice road, around 2000 years ago. Many of its buildings were carved directly into the rock face which meant they haven’t been destroyed by earthquakes, and are still visible. Sadly not all of the city survived though and the central part is fairly ruinous. Despite that, it’s an incredible place to explore, and just when you think you have finished seeing everything, you find another sight to marvel at. There are the Royal Tombs, Colonnaded Streets, a Roman Amphitheatre and The Monastery, the list is endless and there is so much to see and experience. The rich colourful rock, giving Petra it’s nickname of the Rose Red City, is so vibrant in places and marbled in texture, mixed through with hues of white and grey. You really do get a fascinating insight into the people who built the city and used to live there. No vehicles are allowed into the ancient city, and so most visitors make the trip down on foot, but there are horses, camels and horse drawn carriages for those who need transport.

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Me inside El Khasneh, a little overwhelmed by it all!

I love Petra, it’s in my top three of favourite places visited and I hope to be able to go again one day. Today the site is well looked after and protected, and sits on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It’s a place that many don’t know exists, a hidden historical gem in the Jordanian desert, and one that is definitely worth visiting and will welcome visitors with open arms.

  • Have you ever been to Petra? If so what did you like the most about it?

Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com

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