Paris – Segway Tour

There are many ways to see Paris, but gliding along on a Segway is one of the better ones. I booked mine through Fat Tire Tours – who also run bicycle tours. The tour leaders spoke perfect English, and were very friendly. In addition, they dealt smoothly with my abrupt change of date to avoid an impending heat-wave – many thanks guys!

Segway

We had a great bunch of people – a gregarious American family, a Croation couple, myself from Australia, and our tour guide who was from Hungary.

We had a few who had never been on a Segway before – including a 72 year old woman – and within just a few minutes she had mastered it.

Soon it was time to set off. First stop was the Paris military school – this is where Napoleon Bonaparte studied, completing his military studies a year early.

École Militaire, Paris

The military school was built in the reign of Louis XV. Louis was a dilettante, and was at risk of losing the support of his people and of the military. So on the advice of Mme de Pompadour – his chief mistress – he agreed to establish the École Militaire. The problem was that having spent much of his money on palaces and entertainments he was actually close to bankruptcy. Fortunately, Mme de Pompadour had amassed a fortune in her own right and was able to finance the building works.

Then on to the Hôtel des Invalides – a complex of buildings dedicated as a retirement home for invalided soldiers, with a hospital and church that was built for Louis XIV in 1670. Although built for the King, Louis only visited the church four times in his lifetime. The entire complex is now one of the largest military museums in the world.

Hôtel des Invalides

After this, we traversed a large green space to head towards the Eiffel Tower – designed by Gustave Eiffel. The tower was built as the entrance for the World’s Fair in 1889 – a fair commemorating a decade since the Revolution. Initially the Government was to finance it. But on realising the cost, the Government went to Eiffel, asking him to fund the main cost. He agreed, but being a smart businessman, said he would fund it on condition he has sole rights to the earnings from the tower for 20 years. He actually recouped the cost within 6 months and went on to become one of the wealthiest men in France.

 

Eiffel Tower

There were many other sights, but suffice to say it was fun way to see the city. And while the bike tours take the same route, I’d have to say it is so effortless to do it on a Segway! Many thanks to our tour guide Bianca, and to the fun folks I travelled with – a truly memorable day 🙂

Tour guide explains the sights

 




Paris – Musée des Arts et Métiers

The Musée des Arts et Métiers is one of my absolute favourite museums in Paris. How often have you looked at a piece of technology and wondered how on earth someone came up with that? I have always been interested in the precursor technologies that led us to where we are today. It is also amazing to consider how there was such a flowering of technology development at the end of the 19th century – and France was at its centre until the First World War.

Musée des Arts et Métiers

Let’s go back a bit. I currently own a French car. It has front wheel drive and front wheel steering with a transverse in-line multi-cylinder engine. This format goes right back to the very first full-size self-propelled vehicle – Nicolas Cugnot’s steam wagon. His first version was built in 1769, which tested the concept of a steam driven vehicle for the French Army. Version 2.0 pictured here – yes it’s the original – was built in 1770, the year Captain Cook encountered Australia. This one was slightly more efficient and showed that a gun carriage could be pulled by this wagon.

Cugnot's steam wagon

Weighing in at 4 tonnes and able to achieve around 6kph for 15 minute  stretches, it had front wheel drive, front wheel steering and a multi-cylinder transverse in-line engine. Clearly things have evolved a long way to my Citrôen, but you get the idea.

Move on to 1873 and Amadée Bollée had a regular functioning bus service using buses like this one – the bus was capable of 25kph and ran a regular service in Paris.

Bollée bus

And while the Wright Brothers are credited with the first human carrying powered heavier than air flight, 11 years before, Clément Ader made powered hops in this steam-powered aircraft in France. He produced three versions – this one is Avion III – and his machine gave the French their word for aircraft.

Avion III

But this museum is not just about transport, there are automatons, textile machines and prototype televisions and radios and telegraph machines dating back into the beginnings of these technologies.

Automaton

Automaton ca 1900

Check out their website here – and do yourself a favour if you are at all interested in how our modern technology came into being – this is the place to see it.

 

 



British Museum – a perennial favorite

The British Museum is one of my all-time favorites – a place I visit every time I go to London. Each time there is something different that catches my eye or interest. I suppose this reflects my changing interests over time. But really this place has something for everyone.

British Museum

There is of course the wonderful classical lines of the building itself. Then, once you enter there is the amazing enclosed courtyard which contains the bookshop and cafe, and forms the jumping-off point to take your interests to different times, different parts of the world.

British Museum

The Egyptian section is wonderful, but this time it was the medieval material that caught our attention – at least initially. The Lewis Chess pieces are fascinating – possibly of Norse heritage, they were found on the Isle of Lewis – I have a replica Lewis chess set at home, and love the very human expressions on the pieces.

Lewis Chessmen

From the Viking period there is a fascinating mask/helmet that is said to amplify sound – so perhaps it meant that someone in command could shout orders, or perhaps it was so that the wearer would seem to have super-human capacity and would subdue enemies with a blood-curdling war cry (perhaps learned from Australian cockatoos(!) ).

Mask

This goblet is made from glass infused with cobalt so it appears green in shadow, but glows red when exposed to light. An amazing piece for its age.

Goblet

From the period of Roman Britain, there is a hoard of letters sent back by Roman guards on or near Hadrian’s Wall. But of particular note is what appears to be an intelligence report on the British – perhaps assessing their capacity to be integrated into the Roman Army. It reads in part:

“The Britons are unprotected by armour. There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords, nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.”

The fragment is a remarkable survival from the period of Roman occupation of Britain, and provides some insight into the Roman’s use of intelligence, both to assess their adversary, but also to assess their strengths as potential allies.

Roman intelligence message

Another remarkable survival is this library of Ashurburnipal king of Assyria. – and with it a 5th century BC account of a massive flood that engulfed the whole land, but one man was pre-warned by the gods to build an ark in which to save the animals.

Ashaburnipal's library

This lends weight to the view that a near global tsunami occurred in ancient times, and that the memory was carried by a range of people’s around the Arabian peninsula.

Ashaburnipal flood text

This is part of a new display – a reminder that even if you have visited before, the British Museum is constantly refreshing its displays and is worth re-visiting whenever you visit the UK.