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 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.



Britain’s wartime legacy

The Old War Office in Whitehall, London was built in 1906 – surprisingly recent given its architectural roots, and stands today, much as it would have looked in the days when T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) would have Parked his Brough Superior motorcycle out the front during and immediately following WWI.

It is said by Wikipedia to house around 1000 rooms across seven floors, linked by 2.5 miles of corridors. It belonged to the Ministry of Defence – including the period following the disestablishment of the War Office as a Government Department in 1964 – until it’s sale on 1 March 2016 to the  Hinduja Group and UHL Developments for conversion into a hotel and luxury apartments. It is estimated to have been sold for around £350m. One can only hope that the refurbishment will be sensitive to the heritage values of this impressive building.

Old War Office, London

On this visit, I also took the opportunity to take in Churchill’s War Rooms – an underground bunker built between the Treasury and Foreign and Commonwealth Office buildings opposite St James’ Park. Churchill used this as his wartime office from which he oversaw the conduct of British Forces in WWII. When advised to leave London he responded emphatically that to do so would lower the morale of those who were left in the City.

Hastily constructed, the War Rooms were initially only covered with a layer of soil, until the upper rooms were sealed, reinforced with steel girders and filled with concrete. Even with this reinforcement it would not have withstood a direct hit from a large bomb, but luckily it was never directly bombed.

Map Room - Churchill's war rooms

The War Rooms are formed from quite an extensive network of tunnels with rooms leading off on either side. These include the map room, communications room, Churchill’s bedroom and dining room, a full kitchen and rooms for the staff supporting the planning and management of operations.

Communications Room - Churchill's War Rooms

The museum provides an extensive history of Churchill’s life suitably peppered with his quotes – including recordings of his speeches. Interestingly, the display also covers Churchill’s personal side, including his heavy drinking and abusive treatment of his staff. There is even a note from his wife pointing out the change in his character and particular treatment of a junior officer. It is refreshing to see such candid histories behind significant individuals. The history also points out how devastated Churchill was in losing the Prime Ministership immediately after the war.

Churchill's wartime bedroom

It is well worth visiting this unobtrusive museum in the heart of London.



Copenhagen – Jazz Festival

If you are in Copenhagen in early July you will find the streets alive with the most amazing jazz music. This is the week of one of the world’s great global jazz festivals. The outdoor cafes on Nyhavn are wonderful at the best of times, serving great food, coffee, beer or wine at reasonable prices, and the friendly atmosphere will quickly draw you in.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival

Copenhagen Jazz Festival

If you have the opportunity there are some great things to see here – try taking a canal cruise around the old harbour area and see how Copenhagen was modelled on old Amsterdam. Don’t forget to check out the full size bronze cast of Michelangelo’s ‘David‘.

Copenhagen - David

Copenhagen – David

As a fiddle player, I was fascinated by the rich variety of instruments at the  Danish Music Museum where you will see some extraordinary violins – some looking like they have melted into new shapes. This museum is open daily except Mondays.

Copenhagen music museum - 'Arpa'

Copenhagen music museum – ‘Arpa’

And as the home of the vikings, the national museum holds a huge collection of viking artefacts. In fact the national museum is a collection of several museums covering the period from the iron age through to WWII. The national museum has free entrance and is open to the public 10.00AM-5.00PM year round except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Copenhagen national museum

Copenhagen national museum

But for me, the best way of experiencing Copenhagen is to walk along the canals and take in the delightfully painted buildings, or hire a bike  – they have dedicated bike lanes right throughout the city – or find one of the delightful coffee shops and watch the world go by.

Copenhagen Nyhavn

Copenhagen Nyhavn

What jazz festivals have you enjoyed – and where were they? Let me know in the comments below this post 🙂


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