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The Eiffel Tower: Beacon of the City of Light

Travel to Paris

It was on this day, December 15, that Alexandre Gustave Eiffel came into the world. Born in 1832, “The Magician of Iron” would ultimately be responsible for designing some of the most iconic structures ever made, including his pièce de résistance, La Tour Eiffel.

Raised in Dijon, Eiffel left his home in eastern France for Paris in 1852 when he began his studies at Ecole Centrale de Paris. The young engineer graduated in 1855 and was commissioned to take charge of the construction of Pont de Bordeaux, a railway bridge, in 1857 at the age of 26. He moved on to help build locks for the Panama Canal, and eventually took charge of the wrought iron, Maria Pia Bridge in Porto, Portugal.

It was here, in his construction of the Maria Pia, that Eiffel honed his flair for iron works. Latently innovative, the Maria Pia’s span was the largest of all of the world’s arch bridges at the time and the design proved to be inexpensive and efficient, as well as visually compelling.

Tours in Paris

Shortly after completing work in Portugal, Eiffel was selected among a group of over 700 applicants to raise a monument in Paris for the Exposition Universelle of 1889, a world’s fair organized to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. Construction went relatively smoothly, and little controversy arose until after the tower’s completion.

Today the Eiffel Tower is celebrated as the most prominent feature in Paris’ skyline, however in its early years, the tower was rather unpopular. Many Parisians felt that the modern edifice took away from Paris’ natural beauty. In fact, even 20 years into its lifespan the French government considered removing the Eiffel Tower when its initial lease expired in 1909. Surprisingly, it was not the Eiffel Tower’s aesthetics that solidified its place in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. Rather the tower’s function in telegraph messaging was too important for it to be removed.

Wine TourEventually, the Eiffel Tower garnered popular support, and Gustave Eiffel’s name continues to live on in the form of the 1000 foot lattice tower, in Paris’ central west district. Experience the “City of Light” from a classic vantage on an extension in Paris on any one of VBT’s Biking Tours in France. Have you visited the Eiffel Tower? Do you find the tower to add or detract from Paris’ beauty?

Celebrations Around the World

Whether its lighting candles, decorating trees, or adorning one’s house with paper lanterns, international holiday traditions are as varied as they are ubiquitous at this time of year. Throughout the world, each celebration is generally accompanied by a number of smaller, yet equally notable holiday rituals. Here are just a few of the many ways to celebrate this year.

Travel Croatia

In central Europe, on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, rests the Republic of Croatia. Here, winter celebrations begin as early as December 6, on St. Nicholas Day when children get gifts from St. Nicholas. The real holiday season begins on St. Lucy’s day, December 13, as wheat seeds are planted in a shallow bowl of water. By Christmas Eve, the wheat seeds will have sprouted and grown several inches and are tied together in ribbons of red, blue and white, the colors of the Croatian flag. Families decorate trees and enjoy a large meal on Christmas Eve, while dedicating Christmas Day to religious observances. In addition to family gatherings, there are also a number of Christmas markets throughout Croatia. Zagreb, the nation’s capital, is known for its well-decorated Christmas market, displaying lights, ornaments, and a large Christmas tree in the city’s main square.

Tuscany Bike Tours

Moving east to Italy, a land known for its festive traditions, Christmas revelry begins December 24 and lasts right through January 6, Epiphany. Though the presence of Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) is gradually being adopted in Italy, the holiday season truly culminates on Epiphany and Italian children are more likely to receive gifts from La Befana on Epiphany, than from Santa on Christmas day. Stemming from Roman folklore, the Legend of La Befana has much deeper roots in Italy than those of Father Christmas. The story begins with the Three Wise Men, wandering in search of baby Jesus. La Befana aids them in their journey, providing the men with shelter for an evening. Grateful for her help, when the Wise men set out the following day to continue their search, they ask La Befana to join them. She initially declines, and the men leave. However, later in the day, she has a change of heart, and sets off to find them. She never managed to reconnect with the men, nor did she find Jesus, but each year, on the evening of January 5, she continues her search, leaving presents, candy and toys for young children along the way.

Spain Bike Tours

Rivaling Zagreb’s Christmas market, many regions in Spain have outstanding Christmas bazaars as well as a number of local winter customs. Winter holiday celebrations in Spain can vary by region, but often include bonfires to celebrate the winter solstice, outdoor markets, religious observances, and interesting Epiphany celebrations. The Three Wise Men and their January 6 feast day play a much more prominent role in Spain than Christmas day does. As dusk sets in, on the eve before the Epiphany, a large parade of “Wise Men” begins. The Kings march along the main streets of cities and towns and toss out sweets to children. Depending on the local tradition, the crowd may follow the procession, or the Kings may travel through the town with large, ornate floats in tow. As the parade winds down, families return home. Children leave their shoes and boots outside overnight, and the Wise Men fill their footwear with gifts. Finally, on the day of Epiphany, a large breakfast is held to mark the holiday as families gather to exchange more gifts and enjoy meals together.

Throughout the world, there are countless ways to celebrate the onset of winter, and the holidays that occur in December and January. Do you have a unique way of bringing in the New Year? Share your favorite holiday celebration with us in the comments section.