The Kirkpatrick Empress of France

Born in Granada, Spain, María Eugenia Ignacia Agustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick (1826-1920) is the most highly placed and famous character in the Kirkpatrick family tree. From an aristocratic family, she became Empress of France when she married Napoleon III in 1853. I do not know when our trees cross, although it is likely before 1600 when Scots began to relocate to Ireland in large numbers, and perhaps well before. No claims to the throne coming from me!

Her grandfather was the Scotsman William Kirkpatrick of Closeburn ((1764–1837), who was US Consul from 1800-1817, and he was a wine merchant in Malaga, Spain. He’d exiled in Spain after supporting the Stuart pretensions to the throne made returning to Scotland problematic. As United States Consul in Malaga between 1800 and 1817, William Kirkpatrick excelled in commerce, with excellent connections in Europe and America. ” Allied with similar families from across Europe, the Kirkpatricks revolutionized trade and industry in southern Spain and even had a hand in introducing grapevines to Australia.” Geni

María Eugenia Ignacia Agustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick
María Eugenia Ignacia Agustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick, 39 x 50cm/16 x 19″

His daughter and mother to Eugenia was María Manuela Enriqueta Kirkpatrick de Closeburn y de Grevigné. Eugenia’s father was Don Cipriano de Palafox y Portocarrero, Grandee of Spain, 15th Duke of Peñaranda de Duero, 9th Count of Montijo, 15th Count of Teba, 8th Count of Ablitas, 8th Count of Fuentidueña, 14th Marquess of Ardales, 17th Marquess of Moya and 13th Marquess of la Algaba. Her mother, María Manuela Enriqueta Kirkpatrick de Closeburn y de Grevigné, gave birth to María Francisca de Sales “Paca” de Palafox Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick, who became Duchess of Alba, and later to Eugenia. There was a son who died young.

In 1834 María Manuela Enriqueta took daughters Eugenia and her older sister to Paris, fleeing a cholera outbreak. There the red haired Eugenia became an athletic and affable student, if mediocre academically. She liked horseback riding and swimming. She was very interested in politics and came to support the Bonapartist cause. Eugenia met Napoleon at a reception he hosted after he became the President of the Second Republic at the Elysée Palace on April 12, 1849. They wed on 29 January 1853 in a civil ceremony at the Tuileries in Paris, which is connected to the Louvre, and on the 30th in a religious ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Napoléon and Eugénie had one child together, Napoléon, Prince Imperial (1856–1879). They lived in England after their exile. She died on a visit to Spain.

Emperor Napoléon III and Eugenia de Palafox Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick
Empress Eugenia with Emperor Napoléon III and Prince Napoleón Eugenio Luis (b 1856) circa 1858

Our guide at Closeburn Castle, María Navarro de Sepúlveda, said Eugenia was on the wild side. For example she purportedly enraged the Ottoman Sultan by taking a son in her arm. She supported many conservative causes, reflected in her staunch support of monarchies. She opposed the unification of Italy, in large measure due to her loyalty to the Pope. On the other hand, she advocated equality for women, supporting such causes as the effort to make George Sand the first female member of the Académie Française. She was a supporter of the arts, establishing the Musée Chinois at Fontainebleau.

She was no wall flower, that seems certain. She was active in governing France, officially representing the Emperor when he traveled outside France, while acting as his adviser on many matters. Among other official activities, she was present at the opening of the Suez Canal. She opposed a Prussian candidate for the vacant Spanish throne in the controversy that precipitated the Franco-German War of 1870. See

She had a strong influence on fashion and was memorialized in film. The Eugénie hat, popularized by Greta Garbo, was worn dramatically tilted and drooped over one eye. More representative of the empress’ actual apparel was the late 19th-century paletot, a coat with bell sleeves and a single button enclosure at the neck. Her character played a role in six films, and in the miniseries Sisi of 2009 vintage. The asteroid 45 Eugenia was named after her. She has a place in the official website of the Chateau of Versailles. There is much more of note. There are numerous books and articles about Eugenia:

Aubry, Octave (1939). Eugenie: Empress of the French. London: Cobden-Sanderson. Du Camp, Maxime (1949). Souvenirs d’un Demi-Siècle: Au Temps de Louis-Philippe et de Napoléon III 1830-1870 (in French). Hachette. Duff, David (1978). Eugenie and Napoleon III. New York: William Morrow. ISBN0688033385. Filon, Augustin (1920). Recollections of the Empress Eugénie. London: Cassell and Company, Ltd. Retrieved 14 August 2013. Horne, Alistair (1965). The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Kurtz, Harold (1964). The Empress Eugénie: 1826–1920. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. LCCN64006541. Leroy, Alfred (1969). The Empress Eugénie. London: Heron Books. McQueen, Alison (2011). Empress Eugénie and the Arts: Politics and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century. Burlington: Ashgate. ISBN9781409405856. “Hôtel du Palais”. Merimée. Ministry of Culture. Retrieved 10 June 2013. Prince, Danforth; Porter, Darwin (2010). Frommer’s France 2011. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN9780470641774. Sencourt, Robert (1931). The Life of the Empress Eugénie. London: Ernest Benn. Seward, Desmond (2004). Eugénie: The Empress and her Empire. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN0-7509-29790. Stoddart, Jane T. (1906). The Life of the Empress Eugénie. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Tschudi, Clara (1899). Eugenie: Empress of the French. A Popular Sketch. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Wawro, Geoffrey (2003). The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871. Cambridge University Press. ISBN9780521584364. See Wikipedia

I Mak Sikker: Roger de Kirkpatrick and Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland

I Mak Sikker (or ‘Siccar’)

My ancient relative Roger de Kirkpatrick was possibly my 17th great-grandfather. He was born circa 1280 at Closeburn Castle. He died at Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries-shire , Scotland circa 1322. He was involved in the successful quest of Robert the Bruce for the Scottish crown in the later part of the first decade of the 14th century, for which he achieved a degree of fame.

In 1286 Alexander III died, leaving only a three year old granddaughter to succeed him. She died at age 7 on the way to Scotland to marry six-year-old son Edward of Carnarvon, an arrangement designed to solve the succession problem. Some thirteen contenders for the throne emerged. Civil war threatened. The Scots asked Edward I of England to decide the matter, which he did, in favor of John Balliol., passing by the grandfather of Robert, also Robert the Bruce although probably written as Robert de Brus, whose claim came by virtue of his grandfather, David I of Scotland.

Edward undermined John’s subsequent rule. This led to the rebellion by William Wallace, subject of the film “Braveheart,” based on the epic poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace. Wallace’s effort ended with his execution, brutal as was then common, leading in turn to Bruce and Red Corwyn becoming Joint Guardians.

Things were going poorly between Corwyn and Bruce aka Brus. The story goes that to resolve matters between them Bruce had proposed an agreement whereby either Bruce turn over his lands in exchange for Corwyn’s support of Bruce’s claims to the throne, or vice versa. Corwyn chose the land over the crown. However he backed out of the agreement, reporting the matter to Edward I. Robert set out for Lochmaben Castle in Scotland, meeting Roger and others there, proceeding to Dumfries, near Kirkpatrick-Fleming, to meet with Comyn.

The meeting took place on February 10, 1306. “Comyn, perhaps suspecting that his treachery had been discovered, appointed the Grey Friars Church in the Convent of the Minorites. Here Bruce passionately upbraided him for his treachery, a violent altercation ensued, Comyn gave him the lie, whereupon he instantly drew his dagger and stabbed him. Hastening from the Church, he met his friends, who seeing him hastening from the Church, and pale, eagerly inquired the cause. I doubt,’ said he, ‘I have slain the Comyn.’ ‘Doubt’ st thou,’ said Kirkpatrick, ‘ I mak sicker’ <sic>’ and rushed into the Church. See Kirkpatrick of Closeburn.

Churches were considered sacrosanct, making them a safe place. Both Roger and Robert were subsequently ex-communicated.

Here’s a slightly different account “Running from the church he <Robert> met his two friends, Sir Roger Kirkpatrick and Sir James Lindsay, who asked ³What tidings?²… I doubt I have slain Comyn,²” whereupon Kirkpatrick cried, ³You doubt, I mak sickar (I¹ll make certain)². Roger ran into the church, killed Comyn with his daggar .<sic> and also Comyn¹s uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, who had come to his nephew¹s rescue. For this act of sacrilege in a sacred church, Pope Clement V excommunicated both Bruce and Kirkpatrick.² In 1306 Robert “…commanded Sir Roger to adopt as his crest a hand grasping a bloody dagger with the words I mak Sickar¹, to commemorate ³his swift vengeance on one who had been a traitor to his country. ” See

Whichever of these two accounts is more accurate, “I mak Sikker” is something they all have in common. This motto was granted to the Kirkpatricks by Robert after he became king, shortly after this event. The motto remains on the coat of arms to this day.

I mak siccar, Kirkpatrick Coat of Arms, Closeburn Parish Church
Kirkpatrick Coat of Arms at the Closeburn Parish Church
Closeburn Parish Church
The coat of arms is right above the arch

The event is commemorated on a nearby plaque on Castle Street in Dumfries “… to signify the location of the Comyn murder, such a crucial event in the history of Scotland. “See

Plaque in Dumfries, a town near the Castle.

Robert (b 1274) reigned from 1306 until his death in 1329, succeeded by his son David II. Roger served as emissary to Edward during Robert’s Reign.

In the next post I will write about the origins of the de Kirkpatrick family.

Journey to century 13th: the family castle in Closeburn

The Castle

On my quest to discover more about my family’s origins I am on a journey to Scotland. I had to go see it for myself: Closeburn Castle, owned and occupied by Kirkpatricks from at least the year 1232. Located 1.3 miles southeast of Closeburn, the castle is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in Scotland. This ancient yet entirely intact structure is located in an area of that same name. Nearby is the village of Kirkpatrick-Fleming and the Kirkpatrick Church.

We’d been told from childhood that we came from Ireland. This turns out to be only partly true, as the oldest records come from this area in Scotland, showing my ancestral Kirkpatrick’s immigration first to Ireland and then to America circa 1700. I discovered this several years back via my account. I then learned about the earliest Kirkpatricks in history, several of whom played significant roles, and Closeburn Castle, granted to Ivone de Kirkpatrick in 1232 by Alexander II.

We flew into Manchester, driving three and a half hours and 175 miles to the northwest in a rented electric car. We’d arranged for a tour of the interior for 9am the next day, spending the night a few kilometers away. We enjoyed good food, with lots of deep fried fish on the menu together with mac and cheese (oy!), while watching the pub fill with people coming for the weekly quiz. We occasionally struggled with the strong Scottish accents. Subtitles would have been useful for some of our conversations.

The building is technically a tower and not a castle. A tower is a defensive structure with extremely limited access built inside a protective fence. A castle is designed for easier access, if still difficult to breech. A keep or donjon (from the French) is a tower within a castle, often used as a prison. Closeburn was built without stairs and with very few and very small windows, a few of which remain. To enter or leave you had to climb a ladder dropped from within. Stairs weren’t added until 1748 when the family’s nearby mansion was destroyed by fire. The stairs sit on the outside of the structure on the rear side, thus are not visible in the photo below. You enter via the first door just to the viewer’s left of the tower.

Closeburn Castle, smaller buildings came much later.

The tower is Scottish Listed, noted as being some 15 meters in depth and 15 in height, by about 10 in width. It may have been built by a Kirkpatrick as early as the late 1100’s, perhaps first in wood. It was there by the time the land was granted to Ivone de Kirkpatrick in 1232 by Alexander II, King of Scotland. The title document is still with us, with a duplicate on display inside the tower. It is also a listed property, see National Monuments Record of Scotland, Site Reference NX99SW 3.00

The land area called Closeburn was much bigger than its current measure when it was granted to Ivone. Some reckon the land was in the family as far back as the 8th century as noted in Kirkpatrick of Closeburn pdf.

The Name

“Kirk” is Scottish for “church,” thus Kirkpatrick is “Church of St Patrick.” The family name may have come from the church of St. Patrick in Kirkpatrick-Fleming. See Wiki on Clan_Kirkpatrick. There are claims that the village of Kirkpatrick-Fleming was the birth place of St. Patrick (Scottish Gaelic: Pàdraig). If so then it would make sense for that church to be the source of the family name, in veneration of St Patrick, who was well known even then of course. However the validity of the claim that Patrick was born here is uncertain at best, and there are several competitors. In his autobiographical Confessio (English ‘Declaration’) Patrick says that he was kidnapped from Scotland when he was about 16 and taken to Ireland, without being specific as to where exactly he was born or lived in Scotland. He writes that he was enslaved for six years before escaping, returning to Scotland, location again unspecified. With regards to the church itself, per Kirkpatrick-Fleming, “The medieval parish church was given to Gisborough Priory in Cleveland by Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale, around 1170, though this connection lapsed after 1330.[1] The present church dates to the 18th century and is protected as a category B listed building.[2]” Annandale is about 20 miles from the castle.

kirkpatrick church
18th century Kirkpatrick Church in Kirkpatrick-Fleming. It is being converted for use as an art gallery.
Kirkpatrick-fleming town
Downtown Kirkpatrick-Fleming. The white building at the far end is the town pub

Kilpatrick is an alternative spelling. It would seem then that the Calquhoun family is related. “During the reign of Alexander II, Umphredus de Kilpatrick received from Malduin, Earl of Lennox, the estates of Colquhoun, Auchentorily and Dumbuck. ” Wiki

Further, “The lands in the Loch Lomond area of Scotland have been held within the Colquhoun family since 1150 AD, when the lands were granted to the Laird of Luss. The Colquhouns originated at Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde…” Clan Colquhoun’s website I resided in Glasgow in the summer of 1998. There were pages of Kirkpatricks and Kilpatricks, and there is an area called Kilpatrick Hills, presumably named by that branch of the family, located some 14 miles to the northwest of Glasgow.

The castle was inhabited by Kirkpatricks until 1783 when it was sold. In the early 1980’s until the present day it has been again owned and occupied by a Kirkpatrick, after its purchase by Luis Kirkpatrick (1910-2010) from the Spanish branch- more of this in a subsequent post. His son Patricio, who has also passed away, inherited the estate. The current occupants are his third wife and step-daughter María Navarro de Sepúlveda, our very good amicable guide. She and her mother, María Jesús de Sepúlveda, occupy the adjacent buildings, using the tower for various commercial purposes. Until recently the tower was used as a B&B but is no longer. Currently it is being converted for use in parlor games. It is in a sparsely populated area with few attractions, so making commercial use of the structure is a challenge.

Closeburn Parish Church
Ruins in the graveyard next to the current Closeburn Parish Church, still in use

The tower was originally built on a now drained lake, at one point being surrounded by a defensive wooden fence. I have found references that state there was a stone wall surrounding the building. In 17th century they added a manor house, while a red sandstone porch came to the north side after 1856.

The Structure

The interior is modern, with running water, bathrooms with bathtub, and central heating. There are four floors plus the ground level floor where you see the jail cell, access to the now covered well, and a wine cellar with stone shelves. The walls are 3 meters (10ft) wide on the lower levels, 2 meters (6ft) on the upper. Having a well inside the structure allowed for longer resistance to siege.

stone shelves

On the first floor up a steep staircase you encounter what is called a “yett.” This is a very skillfully produced metal gate posted at what was the main entrance before stairs were installed. In the 1600s, local privy councils removed yetts from most castles in the country to make them less secure. Per the castle’s website, Closeburn Castle, there are just 37 still in castles, only five of which date from prior to the 15th century.


On this level you find a kitchen, two fireplaces on either side of a wall added in 1748 by Sir Thomas dividing the vaulted chamber into two main rooms. There are modern albeit probably single glaze windows at the end of deep cuts into the thick walls.

window in wall
Windows are cut into the 3 meter walls

On the second floor are a kitchen and a fireplace on either side of a central wall added in 1748 by Thomas Kirkpatrick that divided the single chamber into two rooms. There are (likely single glaze) windows at the ends of the deep cuts into the walls. There are portraits of the Luis Kirkpatrick y O´Donnell family. Don Luis (1910-2010) was the 12th Baron of Closeburn, per the Closeburn Castle website, although per Wikipedia there have only been 11. On the other side are photos and other items that focus on Empress Maria Eugenia Palafox Portocarreño y Kirkpatrick. I will write about her in a coming entry. The third floor they call the Kirkpatrick Suite. There are some very good photos of these three floors and the roof, as well as commentary on the Closeburn website

roof view
View from the roof, sheep in the distance. The lake was located in this area. Current residents use the lower buildings. My photo.

The next post is tentatively titled, “The Kirkpatricks– were we Normans?” I will post it soon.

Closeburn Castle, Scotland: the Kirkpatrick family’s home

Closeburn castle 13thc, built and occupied by Kirkpatricks
Closeburn Castle, ink drawing

The castle is located in Closeburn, Scotland, not far from Kirkpatrick-Fleming from which my own history emanates. It dates roughly from the late 13th century. It was owned by Kirkpatricks until the mid 18th century and again starting in the early 1980’s. It remains occupied by Kirkpatricks to this day.

The tower is 15 (46′) x 10 meters (33′) x 15 meters in height. It is furnished. The smaller buildings were added in the 17th century.

After our mid-November visit I will tell more about it and the Kirkpatrick history surrounding it.

Beaucoups de Bocuse

Paul Bocuse (1926-2018) is credited with making Lyon the cuisine capital of France, and thus for many the cuisine capital of the world. He developed nouvelle cuisine, lighter than the traditional French kitchen. As the chef on the first flight of the Concorde in 1969, he propelled his career and the development of these minimalist, high priced performative restaurants. Since 1987 chefs have coveted the prize Bocuse d’Or. Bocuse’s main restaurant is L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, holder of three star Michelin for 27 years.

Paul Bocuse on the Fresque des Lyonnais

Nouvelle cuisine is characertized by shorter cooking, super high quality ingredients, lighter menus (a common complaint, that for the price, you leave hungry), modern techniques and equipment, inventiveness and huge prices. You can easily pay €300 plus beverages right now in Lyon at any of the four restaurants bearing his name.

Nouvelle cuisine, escabèche d'écrevisses sur gaspacho d'asperge_et_cresson
Crawfish escabèche over asperagus and watercress gaspacho
Peg at Mural of the Canuts 2
Painting of Paul Bocuse

Bouchon- traditional workers’ cuisine

Want to have a healthy salad for lunch? Forget about a Salade Lyonaise. It is essentially bacon fat poured over lettuce with a shallot in the mix and a pouched egg on top. Not even a tomato in sight. It is tasty though. This salad was my first course of two at Bouchon des Artistes in Lyon, France. It is emblematic of this style of cooking: not too fancy and using comparatively inexpensive ingredients. The Bouchon started as small inns frequented by Canuts(silk workers) in the seventeenth century, thus the tradition, and yet producing a tasty meal.

Typical stuff: sausage, especially Andouille, liver pate, meat from the pig’s neck or belly. It’s also about the friendly, relaxed atmosphere and a personal relationship with the staff. Indeed our waiter spent quite a bit of time chatting with us, while clearing up our misunderstandings- we were expecting more meat dishes.

I ordered a quenelle. It is is a mixture of creamed fish or meat, mixed with flour or breadcrumbs, bound with eggs and shaped into a egg shaped load. It is baked or poached, and served with a sauce or broth- mine was thin. The one they brought me was fish based, mildly bisque flavored.


Below is a recent menu from the restaurant. Among the offerings: Cromesquis de tête de veau. A qromesquis is a croquette, this one being made with the meat of a veal’s head. Also Ballottine de volaille, stuffed chicken breasts. There are many versions of the Ballottine, this one has crawfish and autumn vegetables.

recent menu des artistes
Recent menu from Bouchon des Artistes

Coq au vin is another common offering, as well as chick liver salad, pot-au-feu (pot roast), and artichoke thistle in bone marrow. Even if you are squeamish you can usually find something that’s not quite so, well, basic.

Also on their menu, the city’s favorite (or at least most common) dessert: pralines. Based on almonds, they are commonly served as a sweet cake with the praline mixture dyed bright, bright red. Cafe gourmand, seen here too, is a comparatively late addition to dessert menus. It comes with an espresso served with several small sweets.

Naturally there is variation in the menu from Bouchon to Bouchon, even from day to day in the same, and some menus we looked at were in the €40 range, not cheap but a far cry from the city’s €300+ joints. Then again, on a budget or wanting to keep the calories down and save time, you can get a sandwich Greque (a donor kebab) for around €8 and something from a bakery, say a slice of the French take on a slice of pizza, for less than €5.

Walking the Lyon

On our third day we spent 6 hours on two tip based walking tours of Lyon, an excellent way to get a detailed view of the city’s major monuments and features. Vieux Lyon, the World Heritage Renaissance old town, is the subject of these tours. Vieux Lyon is divided into three neighborhoods, Saint Jean, Saint Paul and Saint Georges. The Gothic Cathedral, on the site of the first church built in 549 CE, is in the Saint Jean quarter, it’s facade bearing the injuries delivered by the Protestant iconoclasts who removed the heads of most of the sculptures. The current structure dates to the 12th century. Attached to it is the Manécanterie, originally built for the monks’ dining.

Lyon's Cathedral
Lyon’s Cathedral

In the middle ages Lyon was the main producer and processor of silk in France. There’s a small silk museum that shows the process from silk worm to final product. The workers were called Canuts. The Canuts transported materials up and down the steep hill ascending from the city’s rivers through alleys called traboul. These alleys and steep staircases snake through heavily populated areas. The twists and turns we walked through proved useful to the Resistance during the Nazi occupation.

Traboul entrance
Traboul entrance. The Canuts used these passages to transport silk
Walking through the traboules you come across staircases like these
Staircase in a troboule

Lyon is known for its murals, two of which are famous. The Fresque des Lyonnais depicts the city’s most reknown residents.  It is painted on the six-story building located at the corner of 49 quai Saint-Vincent and 2 rue de la Martinière near the Saône River.

Fresque des Lyonnais
Fresque des Lyonnais
Paul Bocuse on the Fresque des Lyonnais
Paul Bocuse, who made Lyon the culinary capital of France if not the world, on the Fresque des Lyonnais

Another major mural is Le Mur des Canuts.

Mural canuts
Mural before
The building before the mural
Peg at Mural of the Canuts 2

Then Came the Sound of a Roaring Lyon

After a short visit to Paris to see some old friends we took a crowded ride on Metro 6, switching to the 14 after just a short walk. In the Gare de Lyon we found throngs in front of the trains, especially ours, once a track was assigned.  It was smooth sailing after that though, from the Gare de Lyon to Lyon itself on a high speed train.  We are in the third largest city in France and the gastronomic capital of the world thanks to Paul Bocuse.

Paul Bocuse
Bocuse on the “La Fresque des Lyonnais.” All of the most famous citizens are depicted on this fabulous huge mural.

Our roomy flat is just around the corner from the Metro.  The owner’s friendly friend was waiting for us.   The former is somewhere in the Caribbean for a couple of months.  It was after 9 pm by the time we went to the local Carrefour City, the small version of the huge grocery train.  There are two very close by and somehow we walked right by the closest one, but provisions we found.

The next morning we went looking for a street market along the Rhone.  Maybe they changed the day of the week for the market as it was not on.  We walked to another in about 15 minutes.  We found olives, ripe figs, green beans and, lo and behold, some brocoletti aka brocoli rab aka rapini. These may differ but they are in the same family, judging by their flavor.  We must be getting closer to the Italy. You don’t find these easily in Paris, say, but the Italians consume them by the ton. Sauteed with garlic (add sausage if you will), they are one of my favorite veg.

As we walked around I gained the impression that Lyon is well managed and well served by public transport.  At rush hour there are attendants at all the train’s doors, inviting people on or holding them back.  I have never encountered this before. The cars are roomy, with the seats set parallel so there’s plenty of standing room. They use tires to reduce the noise, versus metal wheels, just as they do in Paris.  Another good idea- the tickets work on all the forms of public transport, metro, bus, electric wire buses (wire overhead) and trams.  

It turned rainy that afternoon so we skipped the walking tour at 16h and went to the Musee des Confluences.  It is not only a neat modernity of a structure but a very good science museum.  Some of it is presented for a younger audience, going though the basics of things like evolution, with some realistic full size presentations of three species of humans dating back 50,000 years.  There’s an excellent video that even adults enjoy, showing how the earth developed out of the chaos of debris, then the collision that produced the moon, actually going farther back to how stars are born, one of which turned out to be our very own. I’ve got the sequence out of order here, but you get the idea and you’ll love the graphics. See Musee des Confluence

The confluence of the Rhone and the Saone from the Musee des Confluences

There is a room full of life sized stuffed animals. You can’t fit that polar bear onto your bed for a warm snuggle and you would not want a chance encounter in the wild. There’s a whale skeleton with an enormous jaw open to allow filtering of plankton, and a dangerous looking dinosaur. The African art collection has a bunch of neat wood carvings. I wonder why they do such pointy and too high on the chest representations of breasts. A lively video records village dancers in costume to the rhythm of the drums.

The tram stops right in front of the museum so we didn’t have to walk long in the rain to obtain the stop’s shelter. A few minutes we transferred to the metro and then walked the 50 meters to our door. The broccoletti awaits.

Mucha, the influential artist of the Art Nouveau movement


During a short trip to Paris to see friends we attended the excellent Mucha Exhibit at the Grand Palais Immersif, a video presentation on a huge screen. Mucha was a principle in the Art Nouveau movement. See a bit of the show in the video below:

The Moravian born Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) is famous for his poster designs, especially those he did for the actress Sara Bernhardt. Perhaps his most famous poster is of Bernhardt, larger than life size at two meters in height. He also produced advertisements and decorative panels. His output was enormous, so enormous that he must have had a sizable number of assistants. He lived in Paris for these productive years.

He became famous after a 6-year contract with Sarah Bernhardt, who loved his work. He did her costumes, sets and advertising. He then did the Austria pavilion for one of the International Exhibitions in Paris. After becoming famous, he returned home, dedicating his work to the service of his homeland. He created the Slav Epic, shown in the last part of the presentation. For more see Mucha Foundation

Notre Dame

We also went to the excellent Notre Dame reconstruction exhibit at the TrocaderoWithin a short time following the April 15, 2018 fire, donors from 150 countries contributed an amazing €850 million, enough to finance the entire project. Artisans and skilled workers were recruited from all around France to first stabilize then restore the Cathedral. The many panels in the exhibit are excellent and expertly translated into English, yielding a detailed account of this immense and complicated project, with its many task groups: Acoustics, Wood and Framework, Monumental Decorations, Emotions and Mobilizations, Metal, Digital Data, Stone, Structures, and Glass. At the height of the restoration nearly 1000 people were working on the project. Cite Architecture et Patromonie.

The project uses original methods and materials. For example, in 2021 workers felled 800 trees using period axes to rebuild the roof and other structures. Workers used traditional methods to work the stone. Likewise with the 800 pipes of the organ, removed for restoration. It will take six months to reassemble it and six more to tune it. Tuning requires working at night as it is quieter. Sixteen spire statues and over 3,000 square meters of stained glass have already been cleaned and restored.

period axes
Notre Dame reconstruction project logs and period axes

The restoration as a whole is based on the mid 19th century restoration when the original spire, near collapse, was removed and the most recent and now destroyed spire was built. As restoration works began there was some controversy over this spire as it is decorated complex while the original was plain. However the Voillet-le-Duc version has become so associated with Notre Dame that his design was retained, making its ultimate appearance consistent with the 19th century restoration which serves as the basis for the entire effort.

Cruising Friseland II: Meppel and other delights

Mepple: From Franneker we made our way to Meppel, a town of some 35,000. Meppel got its start in the 16th century, arising out of the peat trade. Its tiny central harbor is minutes to the main parts of the old town, sitting behind a small lock operated by friendly and helpful young guys. It is one of the most picturesque harbors in the country, especially at night. Walking around town treats the visitor to pleasant facades and quaint worker housing.

mepple harbor
The inner harbor at Mepple
Windmill in Meppel

Groningen houses some 235,000, making it the country’s sixth largest cities. It has a small art museum whose main claim to fame is the permanent ceramics collection. When we visited there was a photo exhibit featuring the Rolling Stones, interesting enough if you care about this rock group. Fortunately the town itself is worth a visit. Aside from the all the wonderful traditional brick architecture there’s the super modern library. It’s a glass structure with a 10 story atrium crisscrossed by escalators. Near the stacks are coffee bars, and there is a cinema as well. From the top there’s a great view of the city.

Groningen was established more than 950 years ago. It was part of the Hanseatic trading league and an autonomous city-state until the French era cirrca 1700’s. Today it is home to the University of Groningen, the Netherlands’s second oldest university, and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences.  One out of four residents is a student, so there’s a lively street scene. The bars are full day and night, bikes and scooters flying left and right in the central zone.

Goudkantoor (1635) built as governmental office space

Grou: We came to Grou several times this year due to its crossroads of canals and the abundant moorings in town and outside. Grou sits on a large body of water called the Pikmar, with the Princess Margriet Canal (a section called the Nije Wjittering, Frisian for New Wittering) on one side. Coming into the port you are amazed by the number of boats that live in this itty bitty town, and, at this time of year, by the number of visiting boats. You can fill up with water and charge your batteries without charge, which helps draw visiting boaters.

While we were there a sailing competition filled the ‘passenten haven’ (passersby moorings) spaces up to three deep. Some dozen traditional wooden sailboats zoomed around the islands- we watched from one of them. Heavy weather put an end to the competition. The boats with their dramatic black and white sails repeat the competition in several villages in the area annually.

Worker houses in Grou
Boats moored in Grou

Leeuwarden is another bustling university town, with a total of 150,000 inhabitants (as of 2020). After an opening bridge, on the right there is a harbor for traditional boats and barges, to the left the visitors’ moorings. From the visitors’ moorings you are just minutes away from the busy central pedestrian zone, shops and restaurants galore.

Leeuwarden St.Bonifatiuskerk
Leeuwarden St.Bonifatius Church

It was around in Roman times and is built on a terp, a mound of earth built up to protect the inhabitants from flood waters. Medieval Leeuwarden had a moat and ramparts all around, later demolished or converted to gardens.  The many canals have been reduced significantly in number. There was a small Jewish population starting in the 18th century.