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France ~ Luminous Lyon

December 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

For four nights every December, the gastronomical capital of France is transformed into a breathtaking landscape of light and sound.


Lyon's Festival of Lights

Lyon may not be Paris, the City of Light, but it is definitely a city of illumination. Every night of the year, 325 historical and cultural sites and monuments glow in radiant splendor. And come December, the city beams forth with imaginative extravagance during the four-day Fête des Lumières. This year’s festivities start today and run through 12 December and are expected to attract 4 million visitors.  Videos of previous years’  extravaganzas (see YouTube video below) reveal why: The illuminated cityscape and scenes that surround you are in turn whimsical, fantastical, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, sometimes a little odd and always beautiful. Walt Disney meets Salvador Dalí… and very little is what it seems.

The Festival of Lights dates to 1643 when the city was spared from the Plague. Believing the Virgin Mary was responsible, the residents wished to honor her by constructing a new bell tower topped with her statue. As with many municipal projects, plans were delayed–this one, for almost 200 years.

Finally, on 8 December 1852, the statue was ready for dedication. A gala was to include fireworks and flares, until a major storm arrived and church elders canceled the celebration. Come nightfall, the skies cleared, and grateful citizens spontaneously set out candles in their windows… and thus the festivities began.

The people of Lyon still maintain the candlelight tradition, while the new extraordinary lighting techniques have raised the event to a world-class phenomenon.

The combination of audio, video, and lighting effects transforms buildings, tourist sites, and historical monuments into a truly surreal environment. More than 60 “lighting scenes” created by lasers crisscrossing courtyards, snow-falling lights, and soundtracks pulsating in time to the city’s church bells convert ordinary street corners into interactive works of art.

Lyon’s Festival also draws artists, city officials, and lighting experts who collaborate during a congruent conference on urban lighting architecture. More than 20 years ago, Lyon’s city planners launched a Light Plan to illuminate artistically and aesthetically more than 200 buildings and public places, including l’Hôtel de Ville (the town hall), Hôtel Dieu (the hospital), universities, bridges, and parks. The project reinvented the city’s image, making it a leader in civic light installations and a year-round tourist attraction.

Surreal lighting in Lyon

The Tourism Bureau notes that the festival uses LED technology to enable low energy consumption. The electric bill for all the 2009 installations in the city center was less than €3,300–or about $4,400 at the current exchange rate.

As delighted (pun intended) as I would have been to behold this holiday celebration in person this year, I write this from my home in Florida. Still, I’ve been visiting the France Guide quite a bit lately, planning a future adventure abroad.

Lyons’ hotels are full this week, and the city’s 1,500 restaurants and 18 Michelin-starred chefs are busy serving their gastronomic specialties to crowds. Those fortunate enough to be attending are soaking up the holiday lights with a side of Lyonnaise sauce. Très magnifique.

This article first appeared in Automotive Traveler Magazine.

My photo taken of Luminous Lyon on a summer evening.

St Francis, La Conquistadora and her Clothing:Santa Fe, New Mexico

October 22, 2010 by · Comments Off on St Francis, La Conquistadora and her Clothing:Santa Fe, New Mexico 

Saint Francis

Saint Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, is venerated for his humanity, humility and love of nature. The legend of St. Francis looms large in Santa Fe and the St. Francis Basilica, just a block off the central Plaza, draws many tourists. This Romanesque style cathedral was built between 1869 and 1886 on the site of an earlier church that was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt–an uprising of the Native Indian population against the Spanish colonists.

Lady Chapel

The church also includes a curious side chapel devoted to a 30-inch high statue, La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Conquering Love. She is the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States and first came to Santa Fe in 1626. She was rescued from the 1680  Pueblo Revolt and then hidden. She returned in 1693 with Don DeVargas, whom the King of Spain sent to reclaim the city.  He claimed “the Lady”  helped prevent major bloodshed.

Researchers have not been able to establish her origin or how La Conquistadora originally arrived on the continent, but she is worshiped and considered the patroness of Santa Fe.  Her presence is annually celebrated by parading the icon on San Francisco Street during the Fiesta de Santa Fe. This September event commemorates the city’s reconquest.

What I found fascinating is her wardrobe, a collection of outfits that are changed according to the church calendar. Her robes are handmade by faithful followers and many contain jewels and handwritten prayers sewn in the linings. Over 200 pieces of clothing are kept under lock and key in the Basilica, but for the first time have been put on display.

La Conquistadora's Clothing Collection

I had the rare treat of seeing the exquisite exhibit later on my visit. Admittedly the clothing looks doll-sized but carries a legendary past.  Each article tells a story:some were stitched as offerings for answered prayers, others cut from the cloth of liturgical garments or even bridal gowns to add special meaning. In addition to her wardrobe, the icon’s crowns and jewelry are on display,  including  her diamond and emerald Byzantine cross.

To view her never before seen closet, visit The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, which sits on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill.  Threads of Devotion: The Wardrobe of La Conquistadora is on display through December 31st, 2010.


St. Francis Basilica, Santa Fe, NM

Warning: Plan Ahead to See William Penn

September 22, 2009 by · Comments Off on Warning: Plan Ahead to See William Penn 

William Penn on City Hall

William Penn on City Hall

The City Hall Tour Requires Reservations

The City of Brotherly Love proved itself quite the opposite when my daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and I set off to view the statue of William Penn above City Hall.

We knew observation desk tours were available and researched the Internet for details, checking Will Penn’s homepage. The website boasts, “This is where you will find everything you ever wanted to know about Philadelphia City Hall (and then some!) A second page stated,” Tours of the tower run every 15 minutes from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. A group interior and tower tour of City Hall meets at 12:30, Monday through Friday. All tours are free.”

We also checked a few other tourism websites to confirm. Then, off we drove, paying the toll to cross the Delaware River from New Jersey. Unable to find street parking, we pulled into a lot charging $5.75 per 30 minutes for the first two hours, or $27 per day.

We walked to Penn Square, entered City Hall and were directed to the gift shop to purchase tickets. What happened to free? An employee explained fees were $5 per adult and $3 per child and reservations were necessary. Reservations? Did we want the next available time slot in an hour and a half? An hour and a half?

I wasn’t upset by the cost, but waiting over an hour with a five and six year-old wasn’t an option. The kids wanted to see the statue up-close and I expected to take a few photos. Thoroughly frustrated, we returned to the car, paid for parking and drove home.

Come on Philadelphia tourist bureau– please give your visitors a fair shake if you can’t bestow a little love. Update visitor information websites now.

Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll know to make reservations over the phone. Call 215 686-2840, but another warning–they are only offered on the day of your visit.

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