I admit to a fascination with odd and unusual facts and stories. As an avid traveler – and as a leader for our European Experiences tours – I’m especially tuned in to the odd bits of information we encounter as we show our groups around different parts of Europe. To me, this kind of information adds a spice and zest to travel.
I’ve collected an assortment of these fun facts from around Europe that I’ll share in future blog posts. Kathy and I arrived in Provence this past week for our Luberon Experience tours, so I’ll focus this post on some stories from France.
- At the train station in Apt in the Luberon region of Provence, you can purchase tickets for rail travel to and from any destination in France – except for Apt. The line was closed to regular service in 1989, but the Apt station remains open… even thought the tracks have been removed and a bike trail installed in their place.
- In France it is possible to marry a deceased person but only with the authorization of the President of the Republic.
- In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a very famous wine village in Provence, a municipal law of 1954 prohibits flying saucers from landing in the town.
- More tourists visit France each year than any other country in the world. In 2010 over 67 million visitors came to France, more than the country’s entire population.
- Les Gorges du Verdon (the Grand Canyon of the Verdon) in Provence is one of Europe’s deepest canyons, over 2500 feet deep. The gorge was not really known to the outside world until 1906.
- The world’s first true department store was founded in Paris in 1838 – Le Bon Marche.
- The Societie Bic is the world’s first manufacturer of ball-point pens. By 2005 it had made and sold over one hundred billion pens – that’s 100,000,000,000!!!
- The Eiffel tower was built as a temporary structure in 1887-1889 as the entrance arch for the 1889 World’s Fair. It had a permit to stand for twenty years after which it was to be dismantled. This “temporary” structure has now stood for 123 years. It’s estimated that 6.8 million people now visit the Eiffel Tower every year, with over 250,000,000 visitors since its opening.
- The Millau Viaduct, completed in 2005 in the south of France, is the tallest bridge in the world.
- The Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) is the world’s fastest train. It reached a record 356 miles per hour on a test run between Paris and Strasbourg in April 2007. Its normal cruising speed is 180 mph.
- In a 75 year period in the 19th and 20th centuries, Alsace changed hands between France and Germany four times, depending upon the outcome of the most recent war.
- Lascaux, the cave famous for its primitive animal art, is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Dordogne region of Southwest France. The thousands of visitors clamoring to see the cave each year resulted in serious damage to the art and prompted authorities to close the cave to the public for good in 1963. Lascaux II opened in 1983 and was an identical replica of Lascaux I. Now after some three decades, the replica suffers from the same problems as the original.
- The Pont Julien, crossing the Calavon River near Bonnieux in Provence, was built by the Romans in 3 BC. It was used for daily traffic until 2005 when a new bridge was built!
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