Wednesday, July 21, 2010

La fête nationale in Paris

The French National Holiday is on July 14th and is the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille. We were able to celebrate it in Paris because Andre and two of the guides were invited to lay a wreath at the Arch de Triomphe! Most of the festivities held on the Champs d’Elysees, the avenue leading up to the Arch de Triomphe, are in the morning. We missed the morning venue; we didn’t leave Arras until noon. We arrived in Paris with enough time to check in and tour the gardens near our hotel before heading up to the ceremony.

Andre and the guides were part of a memorial ceremony with a small parade leading up to the arch. The French police tweeted their whistles and the traffic in the roundabout stopped just long enough for the small party to get through. The wreathes were laid at the base of the Arch de Triomphe at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The tomb holds the body of an unknown soldier from the First World War and commemorates all those who died in both World Wars. It also has the first eternal flame lit in Western Europe since the extinguishment of the vestal virgins in 394. (wikipedia!) Andre said that at the end of the ceremony a representative used a sword to bring the flame up to full ignition. There is a special sword keyhole apparatus apparently to do so. (I couldn’t see over the crowd) It was a very beautiful ceremony; the military band was very impressive.

After the ceremony we had a nice bite to eat at an odd little Tibetan restaurant before heading to the Eiffel Tower to watch the fireworks. Dinner took longer then expected but we still got an amazing view from the park in front of the Ecole Militare.

We went straight back to our hotel after the fireworks amongst the massive crowds because we had to catch our plane to Nice the next morning………..

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